PCHR responds to call for updated statewide nondiscrimination law

PHILADELPHIA – PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau responds to the rising debate regarding the need for an updated nondiscrimination law in Pennsylvania. Democratic and Republican lawmakers recently introduced Senate Bill 974 and House Bill 1510 — together, known as the Pennsylvania Fairness Act — in the General Assembly.

“Despite marriage equality being the law of the land – first through the 2014 Whitewood decision, then affirmed nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court in June – LGBT residents and visitors can still suffer discrimination across the commonwealth. People can be denied services, evicted or fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity without penalties across much of Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia is one of the few areas where comprehensive protections barring LGBT discrimination exists – a practice that should be in place in every municipality, Landau says.

“For decades, Philadelphia has recognized that strong nondiscrimination laws protecting everyone – including LGBT residents and visitors – make economic sense. They allow businesses to attract more dollars, broaden their workforce and build our tax base as a result. We understand that the best and brightest can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Philadelphia has continued to lead in this area. Now Pennsylvania must follow.

“Passing comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation would give us hope that all Pennsylvanians will be protected, be it in the streets or in the workplace. Whatever law eventually passes in Harrisburg must preserve the rights of cities like Philadelphia to be at the cutting edge of addressing discrimination, and should emulate our efforts. Only then would we see our commonwealth finally live up to its credo – virtue, liberty and independence.”

Chatting and tweeting on Philly fair housing

wyl_twitter_081215PCHR and FHC had a robust online discussion with members of the WhoseYourLandlord.com community on Twitter on Wednesday.

Topics ranged from what you should look for in a lease to what kinds of discrimination traps lay out there. In a chat chockfull of valuable tips and insights, people of all stripes added their questions to get a fuller understanding of their rights as tenants and landlords in Philadelphia,

Missed the original Twitter chat? Never fear! Check out the transcript: #wylcommunity_pchr-fhc_transcript.

What you need to know about fair housing in Philly, in 140 characters

wyl_twitter_081215Understanding the ins and outs of leases and laws when it comes to securing a rental home can be tough.

That’s why today from 1 to 2 p.m., PCHR and the Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission will team up with the crew of Whose Your Landlord for a live Twitter chat on the ins and outs of renting in the city.

As a tenant, future tenant, landlord or future landlord, there are pitfalls to avoid — and questions that should — and can — be asked. Here’s your invite to do just that. But remember: everything needs to be a compact 140 characters or less.

Be sure to log on and jump into the conversation. Follow along at the  hashtag on Twitter.

PCHR disappointed in SEPTA ruling

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, defendant in a lawsuit by SEPTA regarding jurisdiction over the transportation system, issued the following statement in response to today’s Commonwealth Court ruling:

“We are deeply disappointed with the majority opinion of the Commonwealth Court,” said Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “We are still reviewing the decision and assessing our next steps.

“We’re in a time when across the country we’re expanding protections for people in the LGBT community, and today the Commonwealth Court renders a decision that would make it legal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender riders and employees of SEPTA. That’s shameful.

“We believe President Judge Pellegrini is correct in his 21-page dissenting opinion when he says, ‘The consequence of making SEPTA subject to Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance would mean that more invidious discrimination would be abated . . ..’ ”

“For any public agency to think they can be immune from anti-discrimination laws in their operation is an affront to the entire community,” said Thomas H. Earle, PCHR chair. “It’s always good to interpret and apply civil rights laws as broadly as possible. The commission will fully explore next steps, including re-filing with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

PCHR is the agency charged with ensuring fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate and diffusing inter-group conflict within the city, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

ADA 25 in Philly

PCHR joined hundreds from across the city and region on Saturday to commemorate a special independence day — marking the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

From a resource fair in the courtyard at City Hall to an expansive disability pride march through Center City to stirring speeches, those gathered came to both celebrate achievement and outline the challenges that remain. PCHR aids in protecting the rights of those with disabilities through the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, helping to prevent discrimination in housing, property, employment and public accommodations.

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Among the organizers of the day’s festivities was PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle, who also heads Liberty Resources Inc., a leader in disability rights and advocacy work in Pennsylvania.

Appeals block PCHR, disabled, from clear fair rules on emotional support animals

PHILADELPHIA, July 23, 2015 – At the cusp of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, countless residents remain in limbo awaiting final outcome in a potentially precedent-setting case for the agency on whether reasonable housing accommodations include not just service animals but also assistance animals.

A 2014 decision by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations stands to open a new dimension for people with disabilities, but it remains mired in legal fights, despite having survived an initial appeal in the Court of Common Pleas.

“As our understanding of the needs of people with disabilities expands, it is clear that many people simply need small accommodations in order to live independently,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “The commissioners’ decision in this case was right and just and fell squarely in line with the Fair Housing Act and HUD’s guidelines.  Unnecessary appeals simply delay justice and equal opportunity to housing for people with disabilities.” plott_hound

In Rubin v. Kennedy House Inc., PCHR ruled that assistance animals deemed therapeutic for people with disabilities are not subject to standard no-pet policies. In fact, they are as viable as traditional service animals that assist those with physical impairments such as blindness or epilepsy.

The case stemmed from an incident involving Jan Rubin, a would-be member at the Kennedy House Inc., a housing co-op. Because her dog, Mira, was not formally trained, the managers considered it a pet, and the housing complex has a no-dog policy. Rubin argued that Mira was a support animal, one that aids in her daily routine and helps to lessen the effects of medical ailments that have compromised her mobility and quality of life.

The Court of Common Pleas agreed. Kennedy House has now filed a second appeal, this time in Commonwealth Court.

At stake is clarification of the rules for city residents and housing providers. PCHR followed guidelines from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on assistance animals that address a segment of society that’s growing ever-reliant on this means of therapy. Whether it’s due to arthritis or autism, panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to animals to help center them and allow them to better cope in the world.

Since enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, perspectives on accommodations and definitions of disabilities have continued to evolve. PCHR’s ruling is another example of that evolution.

“Not all disabilities are visible,” said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle. “It’s easy to see someone with a wheelchair or a mobility device. But we also have people with autism, intellectual disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. These are disabilities as well. And the law is broadly written so that they, too, can be protected.”

Read the PCHR ruling on Jan Rubin v. Kennedy House, Inc..

Philly ready to celebrate ADA’s silver anniversary

July is when the nation celebrates its Independence Day, and this year, the month will mark a major milestone commemorating another level of independence for millions of Americans.

On Saturday, Philadelphia will join in the yearlong celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act as it hits its 25th anniversary. The 1990 law prohibits discrimination and mandates equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, government services and public accommodations — including commercial facilities and transportation.ada25

“Without a doubt, this is a law that literally opened doors for and eyes to our many neighbors whose talents had been hidden by our own misperceptions,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “The legal and cultural impact of the ADA can be seen everywhere, from the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance that guides our work to chirping traffic lights that assist for the visually impaired.

“Most importantly, a whole generation has grown up accepting people with disabilities simply as people,” Landau said. “And that will be the standard for generations following them.”

PCHR is one of dozens of organizations sponsoring the city’s daylong festivities that will kick off with speeches and opening of an outdoor resource fair and conclude with a parade and disability pride march from City Hall to Independence Mall and closing reflections. The action is set to begin at 10:30 a.m.

For people who once were considered part of a hidden population, those with disabilities increasingly are being recognized by and reflected in the American mainstream – from integrated classrooms to fearless super spies on television.

TV shows like "Pretty Little Liars" and "Covert Affairs" featured blind characters that were fearsome.

TV shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Covert Affairs” featured blind characters that were fearsome.

covert_affairs

About 1 in 20 school-aged children in Greater Philadelphia has at least one disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By conservative estimates, some 1 in 6 Philadelphia households includes someone with a disability. Yet, just 3 in 10 eligible people with disabilities are working, an unemployment rate that has remained stubbornly fixed for decades.

So while there will be plenty of cheers and smiles on Saturday, it’s clear that more work remains ahead, said Charles W. Horton Jr., executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities. Even after 25 years of concerted efforts, complete and equal access to education, transportation, housing and employment opportunities is not yet in hand, which directly impacts quality of life.

“One thing that people don’t understand is that it’s not just about accessibility,” Horton said. “It’s about independence. It’s about freedom. Once we get people to address that there is an issue, we have the ability to make change that is important.”

Of course, as the birthplace of American freedom, it’s no surprise that Philadelphia has been on the forefront of disability rights, even before federal law was enacted.

Horton’s office traces its roots to the Rizzo Administration, which began to focus on issues faced by those who were “handicapped or had a disability.”

By 1986, Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. formalized the office, establishing the commission by executive order.

The 1993 federal decision in Kinney v. Yerusalim held that whenever Philadelphia streets were updated or resurfaced, curb cuts and other ADA-prescribed accommodations also must take place. Today, such curb cuts are simply part of the landscape, like the various maple and cherry trees that dot the city.

The literally ground-breaking changes that stem from the ADA now are almost taken for granted.

Elevators at train stations. Wheelchair-accessible bathroom stalls. Automatic doors at public buildings. Closed captioned broadcasts. By their commonplace nature, normalcy and acceptance has grown.

But physical improvements are among the easier ones to note and address, said PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle. He also heads Liberty Resources Inc., a disability advocacy and services nonprofit.

“Not all disabilities are visible,” Earle said. “It’s easy to see someone with a wheelchair or a mobility device. But we also have people with autism, intellectual disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. These are disabilities as well. And the law is broadly written so that they, too, can be protected.”

Quantifying and qualifying who is disabled – a cancer patient vs. a child exposed to horrific violence vs. a teen with HIV – are parts of ongoing discussions, both inside policy circles and among advocates, Horton said.  But only by finding common ground and banding together will meaningful progress continue – progress that ultimately benefits all of society.

After all, the world would be less vibrant without the contributions of Stevie Wonder to music, Charles Schwab to business, Melissa Stockwell or Jim Abbott to sports or John Hockenberry to journalism, among just a few examples.

“We must continue to fight,” Horton said. “It’s not over, because people with disabilities have the right to have a full life, too.”

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau hangs with Mayor's Commission on People with Disabilities Executive Director Charles W. Horton Jr.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau hangs with Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities Executive Director Charles W. Horton Jr.

To volunteer for Saturday’s events, contact Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities at shoes100@temple.edu or call (215)204-1356 or Vision for Equality at mdevaney@visionforequality.org or call (215) 923-3349.