Terrell Brittain Advocates for Deaf Renters

By Jean F. Andrews

Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle

Deaf people are treated unfairly by housing leasing staff, according to a front-page story in the Houston ChronicleJanuary 27, 2014 by news reporter Jayme Fraser. In fact, office managers are reported to have rudely hung up on deaf inquirers who call in using relay interpreters. Why is this situation still happening in this era of Civil Rights and the American with Disabilities Act? Fraser further reports that the National Fair Housing Alliance organization is collecting cases where more deaf people, seeking housing, were treated unfairly. Fraser interviews Terrell Brittain, a young, articulate deaf professional who has a master’s degree in Deaf Education, and is currently employed as a professor of American Sign Language Interpretation at the University of Houston. Brittain recounts his bad experiences and rude treatment when trying to contact leasing office staff, both while he was in college as well as now – as a professional. Fraser quotes Harold Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association for the Deaf who attributes this case and others to “a problem with poor training.”

Jayme Fraser
Jayme Fraser

Poor staff training is only the tip of the iceberg. The problem is much deeper. While Brittain’s treatment by the leasing office staff was inexcusable and illegal, fortunately for Brittain, he has the communication skills and education to confront the leasing officials in order to clearly articulate this complaint. Many deaf adults seeking housing are not as fortunate. These deaf adults are functionally illiterate. They are the victims of a poor educational system that postponed their exposure to a visually based sign language and failed to teach them to read and write. Consequently, many are underemployed or unemployed.

Harris Communications
Harris Communications

They have difficulty articulating their needs and seeking their Constitutional Rights. Many of these deaf adults get caught up in the criminal justice system and are unable to defend themselves because they do not have the background knowledge or communication skills to work with an attorney and understand their trial.  If you go to Huntsville State Prison and interview deaf inmates there, you will find out what Dr. Katrina Miller, professor of Rehabilitation counseling at Emporia State University, found out in her study of 99 Deaf Prisoners in Huntsville State prison.

Dr. Miller found that many deaf inmates incarcerated there, told her they did not have interpreters during their trials and do not know why they are in prison. Unlike Terrell Brittain, who can communicate his complaint and seek a legal resolution, many deaf adults struggle to obtain their Constitutional Rights with more serious consequence than no roof over their heads; they can face a life behind bars.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Department Chair of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

[Editor’s note: You may notice something different in Dr. Andrews’ bio. She is now the Chair of her department. Please join DeafInPrison.com in congratulating Dr. Andrews on this well deserved promotion. –BitcoDavid]

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