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    Reverse Discrimination When Housing Those with Disabilities



    by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

    Is it possible for reverse discrimination to occur when housing those with disabilities?  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) believes so as it proclaimed that the Apache ASL apartments in Tempe, Arizona needs to rent 75 percent of its apartment units to those without disabilities.  The apartment complex have been accused of discriminating against individuals who are not deaf, or have other forms of disabilities.  This charge has spearheaded outrage, especially since HUD funded $2.6 million to establish the project that would allow those with hearing impairments to acquire appropriate housing for their needs.

    Example of a Videophone GadgetApache ASL apartments are a handful of housing facilities available in the United States that are specifically designed for those with hearing impairments.  Each apartment unit has the following accommodations:  wheelchair accessibility, blinking light sensors that activate when the doorbell rings and the garbage disposal is in use, and a videophone system that allows residents to connect and communicate with their friends and others.  From the wide range of accommodations made available to residents with hearing impairments and other forms of disabilities, Apache ASL apartments seem to be in heavy compliance with HUD’s Disability Rights in Private and Public Housing.  The following are the rights people with disabilities have under the Federal laws that focus on housing:

    Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities.  It is unlawful for a housing provider to refuse to rent or sell to a person simply because of a disability.

    Requires housing providers to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies, practices, or services so that a person with a disability will have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling unit or common space.

    Requires housing providers to allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications.  A reasonable modification is a structural modification that is made to allow persons with disabilities the full enjoyment of the housing and related facilities.

    Requires that new covered multifamily housing be designed and constructed to be accessible.

    (Excerpt from HUD’s Disability Rights on Housing webpage.)

    It is needless to say that occupants of this apartment complex have taken ardent offense to the notion that too many people with disabilities live in the residential facility.  Some residents have voiced that apartment complexes such as Apache ASL apartments have made it possible for them to acquire housing that was created for those with disabilities.  Such accommodating housing units has furthered their abilities to be independent, and to live where they desire.

    Is it possible for this apartment complex to be involved in reverse discrimination against those without disabilities?  Are such housing facilities designed for those with disabilities acts of reverse ableism?  Is HUD regressing in its efforts to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access appropriate housing without housing providers worrying about meeting a certain “quota” of resident with disabilities and those without?  What will this mean for future housing projects like Apache ASL apartments?  HUD’s decision to demand that this apartment complex meet certain requirements seems to open a new Pandora Box when it comes to the availability of housing options for those with disabilities.

    I am interested in learning your reactions to HUD’s complaint, and the implications it could have on those who seek to have the same standard of living as their able-bodied counterparts that meet their specific needs.  Email me at with your thoughts and concerns regarding this story and HUD’s response.  

    (Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Guardian.)


    Vilissa Thompson, LMSW is the Disability and Advocacy Staff Writer for Social Work Helper, and she is also the Founder of Ramp Your Voice! In addition to being a Disability Rights Consultant and Advocate, Vilissa seeks to propel the faces and voices of people of color with disabilities both within the disability community and in the general public. Vilissa can be contacted via email at, or by visiting the Ramp Your Voice! website at