Safe and affordable housing remains out of reach for millions of people with disabilities and their families. People with disabilities are more likely to face homelessness and housing instability, which has been made worse by the COVID-19 crisis and the accompanying economic fallout. To respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Congress passed laws to fund emergency rental assistance (ERA) programs, totaling $46.55 billion. Despite the large amount of funding available, tenants with disabilities may have trouble accessing ERA due to a lack of accessibility.
Based on a poll conducted by the National Disability Rights Network, there are four major barriers preventing individuals with disabilities from applying for ERA: 1) inaccessible websites, 2) applications not provided in plain language, 3) lack of trained staff to help, and 4) lack of TTY (teletypewriter) services.
Because ERA programs are funded through federal dollars, they must be compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Under Section 508, websites need to be accessible for people with disabilities. Websites are often inaccessible because they do not work well with screen-reading software, which reads displayed text out loud and enables individuals who are visually impaired or blind to access digital content. Because most programs provide program information online or require a tenant to apply online, incompatibility with screen-reading software can be a large barrier. In addition, ERA applications and websites frequently use complex language, making it difficult for tenants, especially tenants with intellectual or developmental disabilities, to learn about ERA programs. Further, many ERA programs do not have staff trained to help with applications or answer questions. While most programs provide TTY services, which allow individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired to communicate with staff through typed text, the services are not universal across all ERA programs.
There are several resources that ERA program administrators can use to make their programs more accessible. The ADA National Network provides resources as does ADA.gov. ERA program administrators can also work with individuals with disabilities to design and test their websites and applications together to better address any potential barriers or roadblocks these members of their communities may face.