The Housing and Urban Development Department has sent the Justice Department draft regulations that would allow "qualified" disabled individuals access to a small portion of 3.2 million federally subsidized housing units, provided they are "capable of independent living" and conduct themselves "in a manner which will not disturb [the] neighbors' peaceful enjoyment of their accommodation."
Late last week, Justice officials had a meeting with HUD General Counsel John Knapp and asked for some revisions ofthe rules that they felt would be particularly offensive to handicapped rights activists, according to one HUD official.
Late in the Carter administration, Justice was given the authority to review all departments' regulations issued under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a basic civil rights law for the handicapped. Justice is now in the final stages of revising current government-wide guidelines covering handicapped citizens' access to all federal programs. These guidelines may be issued before the year's end.
Issues involving the rights of the disabled have been particularly troublesome for this administration, which this fall was forced to withdraw crucial sections of Education Department proposals covering the rights of handicapped children to education after an outcry from Congress and the public.
The draft HUD rules, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, threatened to touch the same nerve. "Disabled people are disruptive to other people by their nature," said Nancy Mattox, a program analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. "It's a gut reaction. Some people don't want to look at them, some mothers pull their children away from people in wheelchairs."
Referring to the section of the rules that talks about neighbors' "peaceful enjoyment of their accommodation," she said, "This language allows people to be discriminated against just because they're disabled."
" 'Peaceful enjoyment' is a term of art," responded Mary Lee Garfield, a HUD attorney familiar with the draft. "It's in all our leases. It just means people shouldn't get in each other's way."
The Justice Department, she said, was more concerned with another sentence in the same section. "They thought we were going to irritate people in wheelchairs by implying that . . . they were not self-sufficient." graphics /photo: Handicapped