Fair Housing Group Outlines Accessibility Concerns

Physical barriers at many coast apartment complexes are a form of discrimination against the disabled. That message was made clear Wednesday by a group studying housing accessibility.

That group's new report shows a majority of rental properties need accessibility improvements.

"That is what people with disabilities are facing in our society today," said James Perry, as the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center kicked off its conference.

The executive director outlined the surprising results of an accessbility audit of coast apartments. Of the 20 complexes surveyed, 15 fail to meet accessiblity requirements.

"And it's much more expensive to retro fit a complex on the back end. So, hopefully, people will take notice when they're building complexes in the future and do it right. And we hope the complexes will work with us to fix the problems they created," said Jason Weil, who helped conduct the audit.

Most people are quite familiar with the very visible parking spaces for the disabled and the familiar curb cuts in the sidewalk. But there are some equally important accessibility issues inside an apartment.

Apartments that are disabled accessible need wide doorways throughout the living area. A spacious bathroom allows someone in a wheelchair the turning space they need.

Christine Woodell, who's confined to a wheelchair, knows firsthand the frustration of discrimination.

"I have not only experienced discrimination on the basis of construction errors, but also just blatant discrimination. We don't want people like you around here. We think you're going to be too much trouble for us," she said.

Noticeably missing from the study are the names of the apartments in violation.

James Perry says that was a deliberate decision.

"We thought if we just came out and said, you, you, you and you have done the wrong thing, that doesn't communicate a spirit of a willingness to cooperate," he explained.

Perry says failure to address the concerns will result in formal complaints or possible lawsuits.

The 20 apartment complexes surveyed are all relatively new, built since 1991. Leaders of the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center fear many of the older apartment complexes may also be in violation of federal accessibility requirements.