Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.
Written by: E Foley
3 years ago
A tablet with the wheelchair icon person zooming across it. Official looking papers and a judge's gavel rest on the screen.

According to a press release earlier this month, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the city of Los Angeles reached an agreement about accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities. In case you don’t want to read the 110-page document, here are the big takeaways.

How did this all start?

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is the division of HUD that ensures compliance with fair housing and civil rights laws, including

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,
  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and 
  • the Fair Housing Act.

FHEO found accessibility violations in many Los Angeles housing units—both violations of physical accessibility and “deficiencies in policies and procedures.” They issued letters in 2012 and 2019 to notify Los Angeles of their noncompliance.

What types of violations were cited in the letter?

FHEO surveyed 16 multi-family housing developments and found that not one of them met federal accessibility requirements. Sample violations included:

  • Not enough wheelchair accessible units
  • Lack of accessible units designed for people with sensory disabilities
  • Common areas (such as laundry rooms) were not accessible
  • People without disabilities were occupying units with accessibility features while people with disabilities were occupying inaccessible units
  • Insufficient or inconveniently placed accessible parking spaces
  • Accessible units were all in the same building or the same size (e.g., 2-bedroom)
  • Lack of effective communication about affordable and accessible housing options

What does this have to do with digital accessibility?

I’m glad you asked! Since many people search for housing using the internet, it is important that websites about affordable housing be accessible to people with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires “recipients of federal financial assistance to take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with applicants, beneficiaries, and members of the public” (24 C.F.R. § 8.6(a))

While Los Angeles claimed their affordable housing website was accessible, many issues were found, including

  • Images that convey meaning or that were required to complete a task lacked alternative text,
  • An important chart of housing development information was not accessible for those using screen readers or by those with low vision,
  • PDFs with information about the Accessible Housing Program were not tagged to be read by a screen reader,
  • An online form for citizens to submit grievances about housing had incorrect or missing form field labels, making it unusable by a person using a screen reader. 

What is the City of Los Angeles agreeing to do?

Some of the major goals of the agreement:

Ensure that existing units in the affordable housing program meet federal accessibility standards (3100 units). 

Develop future affordable housing units (1500) that are “super-accessible,” including features like:

  • Push plate or keyless entry
  • Accessible kitchen cabinetry and pantry storage
  • Adjustable height closet rods and shelves
  • Accessible controls (e.g., thermostat, lights)
  • Roll-in showers

Create and implement policies to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to rent accessible units that meet their needs. 

Develop a website that complies with WCAG 2.0 AA, where people with disabilities can:

  • Add their name to a waiting list for an accessible unit,
  • Sign up for email notifications about available units,
  • Read about the current accessible units available for rent,
  • Get information about property managers of housing communities, and
  • Have an online rental application for accessible housing.

For More Information

Want to learn more about web accessibility?

If you’re curious about the compliance level of your website or mobile app, we offer a free risk assessment. You can contact us anytime to chat with an accessibility expert with experience in your industry.