Equal Rights Center Bringing Justice to All

For nearly 30 years, the Equal Rights Center has been working to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights, choices and opportunities as everyone else.

The ERC approaches civil rights from multiple perspectives, using communication, partnerships and encouragement and, when necessary, resorting to the courts. Its comprehensive approach creates lasting positive change. The center has the following programs:

  • Communications and outreach. The ERC offers “Know Your Rights” workshops to community groups, and civil rights training to advocates and government officials. These workshops explain civil rights law, give examples of people’s rights under the law, teach self-advocacy and offer resources if discrimination occurs.
  • Corporate partnerships and training. The center’s Corporate Partnerships and Training Program works with the private sector to help businesses comply with civil rights laws. Through relationships with housing developers, retailers, restaurateurs and other corporate leaders, the ERC promotes equal access and opportunity as a corporate culture, and demonstrates that ensuring everyone’s civil rights is good for business. The CPT program develops training curricula, provides “best practices” guidance and tests for compliance with civil rights law.
  • Disability rights. The right of all U.S. citizens to equal access in all aspects of their lives is the driving force behind the Disability Rights Program. The ERC protects the civil rights of the disability community on a cross-disability basis.

Through work with a diverse group of businesses, the ERC and its partners have made nearly 60,000 housing units and 50,000 retail locations more accessible to people with disabilities, and have trained thousands of partners’ administrators, managers and other employees on accessibility regulations, diversity in the workplace, fair housing laws and other civil rights issues.

  • Fair employment. The Fair Employment program got its start in 1999, when the Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington joined the ERC. Since then, the ERC has been a stalwart defender of employment rights—assisting victims of workplace discrimination and conducting broad-scope investigations into both Internet and in-person hiring practices.
  • Fair housing. To address barriers to equal housing opportunities, the Fair Housing Program conducts education and outreach, individual and systemic investigations, and advocates on behalf of its members and others who have experienced housing discrimination.
  • Immigrant rights. By identifying and advancing civil rights for immigrant communities in housing, employment, public accommodations and government services, the ERC has become a trusted voice for immigrants. The Immigrant Rights Program conducts extensive outreach in many languages to educate immigrant groups about their civil rights, conducts testing investigations to identify discrimination based on national origin, and works with local and federal partners to promote equality for all.
  • LGBT rights. As support for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals continues to grow, the ERC’s work continues to evolve. Collaborating with LGBT advocates and individuals, the ERC conducts cutting-edge testing investigations to identify and highlight discrimination against the LGBT community.
  • Testing and special programs. The ERC’s extensive civil rights testing expertise is integral to its investigative efforts. Advocates and community members often alert the ERC to problems in their communities, such as an apartment complex refusing to accept Latino tenants or a restaurant that is inaccessible to people with disabilities. The ERC’s investigations enable it to quantitatively document rates of discrimination, which is the first step to real and positive change.

Recent ERC milestones

In July 2012, the ERC and four franchisees of seven McDonald’s in Washington, DC, announced efforts to make their restaurants more accessible to customers with disabilities. The restaurants are making architectural modifications or will remodel or rebuild the facilities. The efforts resolve a federal accessibility lawsuit filed by the ERC in 2011.

In August 2012, the ERC and Pret A Manger, an international sandwich retail chain with more than 40 US locations, announced a partnership initiative to promote accessibility at Pret A Manger’s locations nationwide. Under the initiative, the restaurant and the ERC will work together to review accessibility at all U.S. locations, and, if necessary, modify policies and practices so all locations are accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities. Finally, the ERC and Pret a Manger will collaborate on training for employees focusing on accessibility and disability etiquette. The initiative will be led by the ERC’s Corporate Partnerships and Training program.

In September 2012, the ERC, JBG Properties, Inc., and several related entities announced a joint agreement to work together to increase the supply of accessible housing for people with disabilities. With this agreement, the Chevy Chase-based real estate developer JBG becomes the 12thmember of the ERC’s Multifamily Housing Resource Program, making a 10-year commitment to work with the ERC to train employees on fair housing and accessibility, and to implement best practices designed to help ensure accessibility. JBG has also agreed to review and enhance accessibility in 690 apartment units at two of its Bethesda, Maryland, properties.

The Multifamily Housing Resource Program was founded as a proactive collaboration between the ERC and multifamily housing developers to increase the number of residential housing units in the U.S. that are accessible to people with disabilities, and to enhance housing industry compliance with federal, state and local accessibility laws. Through the program, the ERC disseminates best practices, conducts employee trainings, and serves as a liaison between housing industry leaders and disability advocates.