A blind eye toward guide dog discrimination?

John Kelly
Columnist November 13, 2012

It must be hard enough being blind without mean or clueless people making it even harder.

Take, for example, the essential act of finding a place to live. The fact that you’re visually impaired and use a guide dog shouldn’t give landlords the right to put unreasonable conditions on your lease or deny you one altogether. According to the Equal Rights Center, federal housing law prohibits discrimination against the blind. To determine how well those laws are being followed, the ERC did a test.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

One hundred rental properties in the District, Maryland and Virginia were contacted, first by an advance caller who asked about availability and made no mention of having a guide dog, then by a person who said he had a guide dog.

Two landlords said guide dogs weren’t allowed at all. Three said only little dogs were allowed. (Ever seen a Chihuahua seeing eye dog?) Six said there was an extra fee for tenants with a guide dog. Two said guide dogs were allowed, but only in ground-floor units.

In all, ERC says about a third of the rental properties indicated that they’d make it hard or impossible to provide housing for people with guide dogs. At a news conference Tuesday, Eric Bridges, director of advocacy and governmental affairs at the American Council of the Blind, said he had encountered resistance when he moved to the area 12 years ago. A high-rise apartment building in Arlington wanted him to pay a pet deposit. He talked them out of it.


Eric Bridges, director of advocacy and governmental affairs at the American Council of the Blind, speaks at a news conference on housing discrimination against people with guide dogs. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“My guide dog did no damage,” said Eric, his current black Lab, General, resting at his feet. “He was a calm and gracious animal who just wanted to chew on his bone and play.”

Also attending the news conference was Shawn Callaway, president of the National Federation of the Blind in the District. He said discrimination is especially bad when it comes to workplace and college campus accommodations for the blind.

Then Shawn raised an issue I confess I hadn’t thought of: The District’s new gun law allows anyone over 18 to register for a firearm — as long as they pass a vision test. Shawn thinks it’s wrong that a blind person can’t own a gun.

Yeah, but Shawn, I mean, really — a blind person with a gun?

He explained that many burglaries and home invasions happen when it’s dark, when a sighted homeowner has no advantage over a blind one. Blind people need to protect themselves, too.

“You can’t exclude a whole group of people,” Shawn said. “That’s totally discriminatory.”

I love a man in uniform

I wanted to make sure I spelled the name of Eric’s dog right.

“Is that ‘General’ as in ‘Petraeus’?” I asked.

“I prefer to think of him as ‘MacArthur’ these days,” Eric said.

In other words, General may be a dog, but he’s not as much of a dog as Petraeus.

Peace out?

The clock is ticking down on Peace House, a rowhouse at 12th and N streets NW. The house is owned by Ellen Thomas, widow of William Thomas, the late activist who in 1981 started the anti-nuclear vigil that continues to this day in front of the White House. Concepcion Picciotto has kept the vigil going since then, helped in the previous year by the indefatigable efforts of people who came to Washington last year for the Occupy protests.

Concepcion lives at Peace House, along with more than a dozen other activists. Ellen lives in North Carolina and wants to sell the house. She’s extended the deadline several times, but she really wants to sell it by the end of the year. She’s given the residents until the end of December to raise $300,000 toward the purchase price.

“The Peace House is the only resource for activists that is left in the city, since the Occupy office went a few months ago,” said Mira Yolanda, the house’s co-director. “We’re still hoping an angel will see the amount of time and effort we’ve put into trying to save it and would somehow help us out and point us in the right direction.” (Info at www.occupypeacehouse.org.)

But Mira is a realist, too. She said she’s asking residents to start looking for new places to live.

Children’s Hospital

Be part of a great tradition: Give to Children’s National Medical Center during our annual fundraising drive. Your gift will help pay the bills of poor children.

You can make a tax-deductible donation by going to www.childrensnational.org/washingtonpost or sending a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/
johnkelly.

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