FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 25, 2014

Contact: 
Gary Rhoades, Deputy City Attorney, Consumer Protection Unit
Santa Monica City Attorney's Office
310-458-4928

The Consumer Protection Unit of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office has announced the launch of a new website for tenants with disabilities and their landlords.  The website will compile 50 real-life stories of accommodations and modifications that can be made to improve access and enjoyment of housing for tenants with disabilities.  The Nifty Fifty already has ten tenants’ stories uploaded, and by offering a submit-your-own-story feature to viewers, the City will add 40 more by National Fair Housing Month in April 2015.

The Consumer Protection Unit (CPU), which accepts complaints for housing discrimination based on race, religion, disability and other protected classes, began to notice in 2012 a surge in disability cases, especially those in which a disabled tenant needs a change in the building’s rules or a modification to the unit. The CPU also noted that online resources for these housing issues—commonly referred to as reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications—were scattered across the Internet and did not include real-life examples. 

After consulting with the City’s Disabilities Commission, the CPU decided to create an online resource accessible from smartphones and personal computers.

“Every week in Santa Monica and all over California, tenants and landlords are coming up with inexpensive and nifty solutions to accommodation problems,” said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. “But also every week, other tenants and landlords are looking for information and examples to help them reach a resolution.  By providing The Nifty Fifty free and online, we are putting the many real-life solutions to work for everyone.”

Santa Monica tenant Juditte Erki says she could have used a website like The Nifty Fifty when she had a reasonable accommodation issue with her landlord.  Erki is a wheelchair user who had been parking her modified, ramp-equipped van in the same space at the Sea Castle Apartments for more than five years.  Her parking space was sized and marked for accessibility to wheelchair-users, and it is the only type of parking which Erki can safely use.  However, the Sea Castle changed the entire parking garage to a valet-only area.  The Sea Castle management notified Erki that she must either park in a city parking lot next door (where accessible parking is first-come, first-served) or purchase valet services at the unaffordable rate of $150 a month. Erki could not find any resources to help request an accommodation to the new valet policy, so she turned to the CPU for help.

The Nifty Fifty is very helpful,” said Erki, “The website tells the stories of tenants who faced a problem in their home like I did, and then it shows you ways you might deal with it.  While the CPU wrote a letter to Sea Castle for me, and I got to keep my parking space, the next time I have an issue, I will check The Nifty Fifty first before I call.”

The site’s content includes the following features: 

-       An annually renewed list of 50 recent stories.

-       Brief hyperlinked summaries with detailed stories on a separate page.

-       A “like” button so that users can show which stories are their favorites.

-       Information on how to request an accommodation.

-       Links to other housing and disability resources.

-       A submit-your-own-story button.

-       Brief legal analysis of each example.

-       Summaries of the all-time top five California court decisions involving reasonable accommodations or modifications.

The Nifty Fifty was built from the ground up by the City of Santa Monica’s Web Development Team, including Keith Kurtz, Behrang Abadi, and Kegan Maher. 

“The Web Development Team designed and coded The Nifty Fifty so that users of all abilities and disabilities have equal access to information and functionality,” said Rhoades. “And the site looks just as great on a smartphone as it does on a desktop or laptop.”

The Nifty Fifty’s design features include the following:

Semantic HTML: Built with semantic HTML, the Nifty Fifty’s pages, links, menus, headings are structured in such a way that it “makes sense” to a machine and so the document “flows” naturally from the top to the bottom, with appropriate use of headings, subheadings, lists, paragraphs, etc.  This also assures compatibility with devices that persons with disabilities use, such as screen-reader or text-based browsers, and that the content is more easily translated to another language (Spanish, etc.) by a machine/program.

Image alt tags: Every image on The Nifty Fifty contains an “alt tag” or “alternative tag." Alt tags to indicate the subject of the image are displayed for users that: choose to have images turned off (to save bandwidth, etc.), use assistive technology like a screen-reader, or use a text-based browser. 

Progressive Enhancement: To keep options open for a text-based browser or a screen reader, The Nifty Fifty can function without the styles (fonts, colors, backgrounds, etc.) and it also functions when Javascript is disabled or unavailable. When additional capabilities are present (such as when the user has a browser with Javascript enabled) then The Nifty Fifty “enhances” the experience with additional features such as color and background.

Mobile First Responsive Design: The Web Development Team designed the site to work no matter what size a user’s screen is, with the additional focus on designing for a mobile (e.g. phone or tablet) experience first, and then simply applying changes as the screen width increases. This ensures all users, on all devices now and in the future will be able to browse the site. The site wasn't created for any specific device – the design is based purely on the amount of screen real-estate available on the device browsing the site.

The Nifty Fifty’s public launch is on June 26, 2014 and can be found at reasonableaccommodations.org (do not add “www”) and it can also be accessed from the CPU’s website at smconsumer.org. The CPU invites all to browse the site, click “like” on the stories, and forward a link to anyone else who might be interested.  Readers are also asked to submit their own success story and vote for their favorites. The providers of the two stories with the most votes by February 1, 2015 will be invited to speak at Santa Monica’s April 2015 fair housing workshop, with their expenses for the trip covered.

 

 

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