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FEHA's definition of disability and its impact on employment and housing

Last updated: November 12, 2023

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) has wide-reaching implications for the employment and housing rights of individuals with disabilities. By understanding FEHA's definition of disability and its impact on employment and housing, it is possible to gain insight into what constitutes a "disability" under FEHA, as well as how employers and landlords must treat employees or renters who are considered disabled.

With this information, readers can develop a greater understanding of the protections that individuals with disabilities have in California when seeking either employment or housing. This article will provide an overview of FEHA's definition of disability, its impact on employment and housing in California, as well as how this law affects those living with a disability.

FEHA's Definition Of Disability And Its Impact On Employment And Housing

FEHA defines “disabled” as any individual who suffers from physical or mental impairment which prevents them from engaging in activities which would otherwise be normal for their age group. It also specifies that such conditions must limit major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning and working.

The law also includes impairments caused by medical condition based on characteristics like race, color and ancestry among other protected classes. Furthermore, if an employer believes an employee is unable to perform his/her duties due to a disability then reasonable accommodations must be provided by employers so that the person may continue to work without facing discrimination or undue hardship.

Understandably the ability to obtain meaningful employment and secure safe housing are two key components necessary for achieving financial stability and independence – regardless of whether one has been diagnosed with a physical or mental impairment.

Overview Of FEHA

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is a California state law that prohibits discrimination in employment and housing based on disability. It applies to employers with five or more employees, as well as labor organizations, public accommodation, and real estate transactions. FEHA provides broader protection than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making it one of the most comprehensive antidiscrimination laws in the United States.

Under FEHA's definition of disability and its impact on employment and housing, which includes physical or mental impairments that limit one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks; having a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment. This definition covers not only those who are disabled now but also those who have been discriminated against because they were believed to be disabled even though they're not.

FEHA has had a significant impact on both employment and housing opportunities for people with disabilities in California by protecting them from discriminatory practices and actively encouraging their participation in these areas. For example, employers must make reasonable accommodations so individuals can perform essential job functions unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer. Similarly, landlords cannot refuse to rent to someone simply because they have a disability nor can they charge higher rents for certain units solely due to disability status.

Statistics on Housing for Disabled People

An examination of the statistics on housing for disabled people provides valuable insight into the challenges faced by this population and highlights the importance of legislation such as FEHA in addressing their needs. Here, we present an overview of key data points and trends related to housing for individuals with disabilities.

  •  Nearly 31% of US households have at least one person with a disability, but only 3.5% of housing units meet basic accessibility criteria (American Housing Survey and HUD).

  • Affordable Housing: Disabled individuals often face financial challenges, with SSI recipients unable to afford a modest one-bedroom rental in most US housing markets (National Low Income Housing Coalition).

  • Discrimination: Disability-related complaints accounted for over 55% of all housing discrimination complaints filed in 2020, indicating ongoing barriers to housing access (National Fair Housing Alliance).

  • Supportive Housing Programs: HUD's Section 811 program and the HOME program offer affordable rental housing and supportive services for low-income adults with disabilities, demonstrating government efforts to address housing challenges (HUD).

These statistics emphasize the need for continued progress in improving accessibility, affordability, and equity in housing for disabled individuals. Legislation like FEHA plays a crucial role in addressing the unique challenges faced by this population in the housing market.

Protected Characteristics

FEHA protects individuals from discrimination based on certain characteristics, including disability. Disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that limits a person's ability to perform activities of daily living, such as walking, seeing, hearing and speaking. In California, this protection extends to employment and housing opportunities for people with disabilities.

For example, when applying for a job in California employers must make reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access during the hiring process. This means they must provide an alternate method of assessment if needed by the applicant due to their disability. Furthermore, employers are not allowed to ask questions about an individual’s disability until after making a conditional offer of employment. In terms of housing, landlords cannot discriminate against potential tenants because of their disability or require them to provide additional documentation regarding it before renting out a property.

Overall these measures protect individuals with disabilities from being unfairly disadvantaged in their pursuit of employment and housing opportunities in California. They also promote greater inclusion within society by providing more equitable access across both sectors.

Reasonable Accommodation Rights

In California, individuals with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodation in employment and housing. This means that employers and landlords must make reasonable modifications or alterations to accommodate an individual's disability so they can perform their job duties or use a place of residence without suffering from undue hardship. The state has established laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities to receive reasonable accommodations, including the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act.

Reasonable accommodation requests may include changes such as making physical adjustments to a work area; providing additional equipment; changing policies; providing assistive technology; providing sign language interpreters or other auxiliary aids for communication; making structural changes such as installing ramps; or allowing flexible hours or telecommuting options. Employers are legally obligated to provide these services if they do not create an undue burden on business operations.

Similarly, landlords must also allow tenants with disabilities access to buildings through necessary modifications like wheelchair ramps, wider doorways, elevators and/or accessible bathrooms. Ultimately, it is up to each person living with a disability to determine what kind of assistance they need and then request it from their employer or landlord accordingly.

Legal Remedies For Discrimination

In California, individuals with disabilities face discrimination in employment and housing. To protect the rights of disabled persons, legal remedies are available to challenge this kind of discrimination. Generally speaking, those who experience disability-related discrimination have the right to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH is responsible for investigating all complaints related to unlawful discrimination on the basis of disability status or any other protected characteristic established by law.

The DFEH has specific procedures that must be followed when filing a complaint against an employer or landlord, including submitting personal information such as name, address, telephone number, nature of disability and type of discriminatory practice experienced. Once a complaint has been filed with the DFEH it will investigate and try to resolve the issue through mediation if possible.

If not successful through mediation, then they may proceed to litigation where either party can present their case before a judge and jury. In addition to utilizing civil courts for redress, criminal penalties may also apply depending on the severity of discriminatory practices involved.

Understanding the Fair Employment and Housing Act of California

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) of California is an important piece of legislation that serves to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics. Through its provisions for reasonable accommodations in employment and housing, those with disabilities are provided with essential protections that help ensure their rights are upheld.

Though legal remedies can be pursued if these rights are violated, it is always best practice to strive for compliance before conflict arises. By taking proactive steps to understand FEHA's definition of disability and its impact on employment and housing and becoming informed about one’s own rights under this law, both employers and employees alike can work together toward ensuring respect, dignity, and equal opportunity for all Californians regardless of disability status.

FEHA's definition of disability has proven to be a critical component in shaping the landscape of employment and housing rights for individuals with disabilities in California. By providing a comprehensive and inclusive understanding of disability, FEHA has facilitated an environment in which employers and housing providers are better equipped to accommodate the needs of this diverse population.

The impact of this legislation has been profound, leading to greater accessibility, reduced discrimination, and increased opportunities for those with disabilities. Ultimately, the success of FEHA's definition of disability demonstrates the importance of progressive legal frameworks in fostering a more equitable and inclusive society for all.

For more information on SSA disability listings and how to apply for it, read through our blogs at Disability Help.

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Zoey Appleton
Zoey has worked with Cheri for years and has been creating the best articles not only for Disability Help but for our readers. Her job hits close to home for she has a brother with special needs. She hopes to see science and technology pave the way for a better life, with Disability Help to cover it and share it with those that need it.
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