When Does a Disability Become Disabling?

By: Jocelyn Schultz

A disability only becomes disabling when society limits access to resources for select individuals. Specifically, individuals with mental disabilities often have a difficult time maintaining housing, which is one of the most important basic needs. Obtaining housing is an obstacle that people with mental disabilities often cannot overcome. Although there are the Fair Housing Amendments of 1988, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, there are still many barriers to housing for these individuals. Unlike other minorities, the disabled have not had historical movements to help mark their advancement. Further, even today, the press has not covered stories of the disability movements like other historical movements.

The goal of the ADA was to provide rights to the disabled that was equivalent to those that are granted to woman and minorities, however, there is still a housing crisis for individuals with severe mental disabilities. Individuals with mental illnesses are more susceptible to discrimination than individuals with physical disabilities. This is mostly due to the stigma of mental illness and because many individuals were segregated from society because of institutionalization.

The recent deinstitutionalization of individuals with mental illnesses has contributed to the increase in the number of homeless individuals. Since mental institutions are no longer the primary provider of housing, the individuals have returned to their communities, which are often not equipped to provide necessary housing. When individuals get out, homeless shelters are often the first place they go because of stringent housing applications. And although application procedures are generally facially neutral, there is a disparate effect on minorities. Since shelters are the first place they go, the shelters need to be better equipped to handle these specific individual’s needs.

This article offers three recommendations to help housing for these kinds of individuals that are well thought out. The article points out that societies concept of the disabled needs to be changed. This societal attitude of the disabled can only be changed if society is educated. This can happen through the media and having the press cover certain stories that relate to the disability movement. Further, the article states that the financial status and discrimination based on disability needs to be recognized and that housing needs to be better equipped to deal with these individuals. I agree, if society’s attitude becomes redefined and people become better educated both society and the disabled will benefit. A society that understands and accepts the needs of others is one that will prosper and giving access to housing will help to eliminate homelessness among this population.


Rachel Ruby, There’s No Place Like Home: Housing For the Most Vulnerable Individuals with Severe Mental Disabilities, 63 Ohio St. L.J. 1729 (2002).

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