Disability rights clinic on Friday at PCHR offices

As we spend this year commemorating the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking American with Disabilities Act, we cannot forget the types of protections it helps to ensure. That’s why on Friday, PCHR will partner with the Public Interest Law Center to present a FREE clinic on disability rights.

If you live with a disability, or help someone who does, it’s a great opportunity to get the ins and outs of what you should expect from employers, access to public services and more. Equally important, you’ll be able to leave with a strategy in case you’re encountering behavior that’s less than acceptable.

Check it out, from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday at our offices at the Curtis Center, 601 Walnut Street, Third Floor South.

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PCHR responds to pending bill on gender-neutral bathrooms

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau commented on a bill being advanced by City Councilman Mark Squilla that would make single-stall bathrooms in the city gender-neutral:

“We thank Councilman Mark Squilla and applaud City Council for taking up a bill that would establish and affirm gender-neutral status for single-stall bathrooms. It’s a provision that addresses both access and quality of life issues for residents and visitors alike.

“We have found that something as basic as heading to the bathroom can be a source of great angst and consternation for many – be they transgender men or women or people assisting older or disabled family and friends.

“By the simple act of removing a particular label from a single-use stall, there is an opportunity to replace shame and embarrassment with respect and dignity. It’s an easy, largely cost-neutral move that would reap considerable relief and rewards and further cement Philadelphia as a progressive and welcoming place for all.”

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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..

Seeking to end hate crimes loophole: city edition

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau testified in City Council before its public safety committee Tuesday on behalf of a new bill introduced to close the gaping loophole left when the state Supreme Court stripped hate crimes protections for LGBT and disabled people from the state code.

Bill No. 140720, introduced by City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Jim Kenney would expand the city’s laws to include hate crimes penalties. Atop of whatever sentence the initial crime calls for, 90 more days and up to $2,000 would be added if it is determined to be a hate crime.

While the violent Center City gay bashing on Sept. 11 spurred a lot of attention for LGBT rights, the legislation also has an eye on people with disabilities, who also find themselves victims of hate crimes too often, statistics and advocates report.

Charles Horton Jr., executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and Thomas Earle, president and CEO of Liberty Resources Inc.were among those testifying in support of the bill. Earle also serves as chair of PCHR.

There remain some questions on the legal construction of the bill in getting to the outcome desired by lawmakers, as raised by Capt. Francis Healy of the Philadelphia Police Department. Still, Healy, like Landau, spoke of the need to establish meaningful law to address hateful perpetrators.

Capt. Francis Healy (l.) and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) testify at a committee meeting Tuesday on a proposed hate crimes bill offered by City Council.

Capt. Francis Healy (l.) and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) testify at a committee meeting Tuesday on a proposed hate crimes bill offered by City Council.

“This would not be the first time Philadelphia is taking a leadership role to address issues of inequality,” Landau said. “But with any hope, what is proposed here soon will be mirrored and enacted on the state level. Still, I am convinced that regardless of the outcomes in Harrisburg,

“Philadelphia must continue its historic role of building and assuring tolerance for each and every resident and visitor here – and detail consequences for those who violate our shared values.”

It was an emotional day for Landau, as she spoke amid occasional tears. Gloria Casarez, the city’s LGBT affairs director, had planned on attending, if not testifying at this hearing; cancer robbed her of that chance last Sunday.

Read the full PCHR testimony here.

The committee unanimously approved the bill, which will go to the full City Council as early as next week.

Pushing to change Pennsylvania’s hate crime laws

Members of the state House Democratic Policy Committee came to Philadelphia on Thursday to explore the many issues surrounding Pennsylvania’s deficient hate crimes law.

The widely publicized Sept. 11 attack on a gay couple in Center City, as well as the citywide effort to arrest the offenders spearheaded by police and Twitter users, has focused many on the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t protect LGBT or disabled people under its hate crimes provision. In 2008, the state Supreme Court struck the language from the code on a technicality on how the law was enacted.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle testify at the state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on LGBT and disability hate crimes.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle testify at the state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on LGBT and disability hate crimes.

Among the many presenters at the hearing, including Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle offered joint testimony on the need to update the law.

“In many parts of Pennsylvania, for many reasons, this city is held as a beacon of hope,” Earle said. “But if something so horrible can happen here – in a cosmopolitan and progressive city – and without appropriately applied justice, it can dash hopes for those living in less tolerant areas of the state.

“We need this law amended.”

The PCHR testimony in full can be read here.

State Rep. Brian Sims helmed the hearing. He was joined by a host of colleagues, including state Reps. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery), Mark Longietti (D-Mercer), Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), Ron Waters (D-Philadelphia), Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia), Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia and Delaware), Pam DeLissio (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery), Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland), Stephen McCarter (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery), Jarret Gibbons (D-Beaver, Butler and Lawrence) and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), the committee’s chair.

The Pennsylvania Legislature will adjourn on Nov. 30, ending a sine die session. Any bills that are not passed through both chambers and signed by the governor by that date will have to re-introduced in the new session. That includes House Bill 177, authored by state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), who will be moving on to the U.S. Congress, and Senate Bill 42, authored by the now departing state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny).

Pushing love over hate

The savage beating suffered by a gay couple in Center City two weeks ago has spurred more than local, national and global headlines in its wake. It boosted conversations about equality. It also has re-ignited a push to update state and local hate crimes laws.

Many were appalled to learn that defendants in the recent Center City case would not be charged with a hate crime, despite reports that they hurled homophobic slurs at the victims during an incident that sent both to the hospital, one with extensive facial wounds. Police can’t make those charges — because those provisions aren’t on the books in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.

That loophole fueled hundreds of people to gather — in the rain — at the Love over Hate rally in the shadow of City Hall on Thursday afternoon. With the iconic LOVE sculpture behind them, lawmakers, civic leaders, law enforcement and PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle expressed outrage and steps toward solutions in the aftermath of the beating.

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle applauds city and state lawmakers for not only advancing legislation to protect LGBT residents from hate crimes, but also those with physical and intellectual disabilities, who also suffer too often in silence. Rosalyn Still provided ASL translation for the event.

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle applauds city and state lawmakers for not only advancing legislation to protect LGBT residents from hate crimes, but also those with physical and intellectual disabilities, who also suffer too often in silence. Rosalyn Still provided ASL translation for the event.

“I’m trying not just to be pissed,” state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) told the crowd. “I’m trying to be resolute. Not just to be angry, but to be empowered.”

The state has been without LGBT protections in its hate crimes laws since 2008, when the state Supreme Court bounced that part of the law enacted in 2002 on a technicality over how it came to be.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) has been advancing bills to correct that, hoping to persuade colleagues to amend the state’s hate crimes laws. In his most recent version, Ferlo was joined by Philadelphia colleagues such as state Sens. LeAnna Washington, Larry Farnese, Anthony Hardy Williams, Shirley M. Kitchen and Tina Tartaglione.

State Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-Montgomery and Philadelphia) and Sims also have been pushing to update hate crimes statutes to include attacks based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Earle noted at the rally, people with physical and intellectual disabilities also often terrorized in silence, be it a blind person whose seeing eye dog is deliberately poisoned or someone with an intellectual disability being targeted for assault.

The murder of 21-year-old Christian Massey in Delaware County and the the rape and murder of Christina Sankey are but two widely publicized cases that shook the region and the nation. Many more, Earle and others note, happen every day without the fanfare — or wider protections.

City lawmakers already intend to up the ante.

On Thursday, City Councilwoman Blondell Reyndolds Brown and City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced a bill that would update city ordinances and include stricter penalties for hate crimes fueled by racism and bigotry and that target LGBT or disabled individuals. Support within the chamber has been overwhelming, Reynolds Brown said.

Kenney told the Philadelphia Daily News that, “Unless and until the commonwealth of Pennsylvania extends protections to LGBT Pennsylvanians, then Philadelphia has a responsibility to do whatever is in our power to protect our LGBT folks Right now, they are not protected.”

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke put it even plainer during the LOVE Park rally. “If you can’t figure out a way to conduct yourself in the city of Philadelphia, don’t come here. We will not stand for that.”

 

 

Battle for a fully accessible Philadelphia

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle has been doing some major lifting in City Council as of late, and the hard work is paying big dividends for Philadelphia residents, and particularly those with physical or intellectual disabilities.

In February, Earle testified about the need to increase wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in the city. And late last week, the Philadelphia Parking Authority announced that 45 taxicab medallions – or sanctioned operating licenses – for the specially equipped vehicles soon will be available. The move should increase the number of accessible vehicles, often vans, by 15 per year until 150 eventually circulate in the city.

That’s a far cry from the current eight cabs used to service the tens of thousands of city residents and visitors that require a wheelchair.

The announcement followed years of advocacy and court battles, fought by organizations such as Liberty Resources Inc., where Earle is CEO, and the Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania.

And then, today, Earle returned to council chambers, this time pushing for the rights and desires of people with disabilities to remain at home, rather than be shuttled to nursing facilities.

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle testifies about options beyond nursing homes for the physically disabled.

PCHR Chair Thomas H. Earle (2nd from right) testifies during the state hearing on options beyond nursing homes for those with physical disabilities.

Whether it is on behalf of PCHR or Liberty Resources, Earle remains steadfast in the fight for and strengthen equal access for Philadelphians, regardless of physical or intellectual abilities.