Earlier this month Independence Care System (ICS) hosted Center for Independence of the Disabled – NY (CIDNY) and the New York State Division of Human Rights for a workshop focused on how human rights laws protect people with disabilities from discrimination.

More than 20 participants attended the online workshop, “Your Rights as a Person with a Disability,” which included information on participating in the 2020 Census and All of Us Research Program. Presenters highlighted the rights of people with disabilities and how they can file discrimination claims, how claims are investigated, and what kinds of relief and remedies can be awarded.

CIDNY discusses Census and All of Us Research Program

CIDNY Education Director Margi Trapani spoke about the importance of participating in the 2020 Census to make sure that the concerns of people with disabilities are heard on issues including accessible and affordable housing and transportation, education and employment opportunities, and health care. The Census, she emphasized, influences the decisions of elected officials and policy makers about budgets and resources.

“If we’re not counted, we don’t have the influence to make sure we’re represented,” Ms. Trapani said.

Ms. Trapani also said that CIDNY has partnered with the All of Us Research Program, a platform from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that is seeking to survey at least a million people throughout the country. The goal is to create a better health care future for citizens, including people with disabilities. People who join will share information about their health, habits, and living in their communities.

“This is an opportunity to be part of research for future health care treatments and medications and to put our stamp on the needs for accessibility in health care,” Ms. Trapani said.

More information from CIDNY is here.

Human rights and filing complaints

John Herrion, Director of Disability Rights for the New York State Division of Human Rights, discussed how discrimination complaints can be filed, and said that staff are taking complaints by phone for people who require an accommodation for a disability or who do not have computer access.

Mr. Herrion told participants that those who wish to file complaints under the New York State Human Rights Law have up to a year from the date of the alleged discrimination to do so. The complaint is then assigned to an investigator, and served on the party alleged to have discriminated.  They will be required to file a written response to the allegations, Mr. Herrion said, and the complainant has an opportunity to rebut the response.

An investigator has up to 180 days to complete the investigation, and a determination of probable cause, or no probable cause, is made. If there is probable cause, a hearing is held with an administrative law judge, who decides whether discrimination occurred. In cases of discrimination, several remedies are available for the person who filed the complaint, including compensatory damages, award of reasonable accommodation, award of employment or housing, among others.

Changes under NY State Human Rights Law

Mr. Herrion noted that one change under the State’s Human Rights Law pertains to gender identity. In 2019, the law was amended to clarify explicit coverage of gender identity as a protected class. While gender identity is considered a separate protected class from disability, discrimination against someone due to a condition or impairment related to gender identity, such as gender dysphoria, a conflict between a person’s physical gender and the gender with which he or she identifies, is unlawful on the bases of both gender identity and disability.

Employment discrimination

All New York State employers are covered under the State’s Human Rights Law, with interns covered as employees. Unlawful discriminatory practices include refusal to hire, interview or promote individuals due to disability, termination of job due to disability and reducing compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of disability. Reasonable accommodations should also be provided to people with disabilities who alert their employers of their needs, including modified work schedules, equipment, and an accessible worksite.

“Over 80 percent of complaints we get at the agency are complaints alleging employment discrimination,” Mr. Herrion said.

Housing discrimination

Mr. Herrion also spoke about housing discrimination, and explained that the Human Rights Law covers private or publicly-assisted housing, rentals, co-ops or condos, sales of single-family homes, and land or commercial space.

Types of prohibited discrimination pertaining to housing include source of income discrimination, and the refusal of housing providers to sell, rent, lease or deny someone a housing accommodation due to disability.

Housing providers must allow for reasonable modifications of existing premises for people with disabilities to enjoy the housing. Under NYS Human Rights Law, expenses for modifications are paid for by people with disabilities, and modifications can include widening of doorways, adjusting kitchen and or bath fixtures or counter heights, as well as the installation of grab bars.

Human rights law, however, was amended in 2010 to require covered housing providers to pay for reasonable modifications in common areas.

One participant asked how the agency is protecting people with disabilities with regard to affordable housing lotteries, noting that some have been turned away from housing after originally being selected and explaining that they are disabled.

“If someone has been denied a housing opportunity that they’re qualified for, merely because they have a disability, that should be a complaint that is filed with our agency,” Mr. Herrion said.

To view CIDNY’s full presentation and to learn more, click here.