Ending Homelessness, One Person at a Time

Project Homeless Connect held their second exposition to provide information to help homeless people find alternative living conditions. What I don’t understand is why none of the organizations who attended had alternative formatted material to hand out to people with disabilities. The mission of Project Homeless Connect is to “end homelessness one person at a time.” If so, then how were the one thousand two hundred who were in attendance helped one at a time? And how would people who were illiterate or blind read the printed materials?

There were approximately sixty-one booths set up to help with housing, legal and employment concerns. The three workshops on self-esteem, criminal expungement and tenant training were well attended. As I walked around the Convention Center, I wondered how homeless visually impaired or illiterate people would read the printed materials that were being handed out. Though I am not homeless, my disability of blindness is obvious. So, I wonder why all of the organizations that participated did not provide any alternative to print information like Braille, large print, cassettes and/or CD’s. If cost of these products is the reason it is not an acceptable argument because alternative formats to print are inexpensive.

The people at the booths could not communicate how they planned to help homeless people with disabilities, especially visual impairments. If people cannot read the material, how will they know where to go to get help? With my service animal at my side, a volunteer escorted me from booth to booth and filled up the plastic bag with the printed materials. The volunteers were given two hours of training prior to the event. The one who walked with me did a great job of introducing me to people at the tables. I hoped to educate the people who planned this event, that as good as this project to end homelessness is, that more work needs to be done to get the information to the people who need it.

As I visited the different booths, I came up with many more questions regarding the process of communicating with homeless people with disabilities. I asked the same question to each participating booth: Did this agency have Braille, large print, tapes and/or CD’s for blind and visually impaired people? My concern is how a homeless person with any type of visual condition could read the regular print handouts. Then another question that arose is how a homeless person could attend this event if no accommodations were made. Lastly, wouldn’t it be cost efficient and practical to put the information from the handouts on CD’s or tapes which could be more widely utilized by people without exception to their disability or literacy?

The printed documents would be extremely difficult or impossible to be read by somebody with vision impairment unless that person had access to Braille, magnification or assistive technology. I have a Kurzweil 1000 program, which is an audible program that reads what is scanned into a computer, therefore, I was able to read some of the printed materials. However, the Kurzweil 1000 is a text only program: it reads a page that has graphics as a blank page. A homeless person may not have access to a computer, a screen reader program or a Kurzweil for that matter. Libraries are a good resource and place to use assistive technology, provided that the staff at a respective library knows how to use the programs.

In the brochures some organizations stated their compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). I wonder how the dissemination of printed hand outs to people who cannot see or read it for that matter, constitute compliance with ADA? Privacy screens were set up to provide privacy to people who filled out forms with the people assisting folks in the application process respecting data privacy protection The concept of Project Homeless Connect is a good one. The representative I talked was genuinely concerned with the issues I brought to her attention. She stated that many of the people who attended the event were illiterate. I have offered to work with the Steering Committee to assist them for when they hold this event again in December 2006.

I would like feedback from the Access Press readers. What, in your opinion, can Project Homeless Connect do differently to bridge what appears to be a communication gap to the population of people with disabilities, literate or illiterate? Send your answers to me at cschadegg@mn.rr.com.