Finding A Voice

Lawrence Brown Housing Story

Several years ago, Lawrence Brown came to Access Living in search of accessible, affordable housing. Browns’ first visits to Access Living propelled him down the path to becoming an advocate for people with disabilities.

Through his housing search, he became more aware of the obstacles facing people with disabilities. The barriers went beyond physical access. It was “reactions I got and how people treated me,” Brown said. “(It was as if) -- because I was a person with disability, I was not looked at as a whole person.” In addition, the housing providers didn’t have much to offer. “During my search,” Brown said, “I began to find out that housing agencies weren’t supplying anything helpful.”

Soon after his first visit to the office, Brown became involved with the Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing (DRACH). In the mid 1990’s, disability community members, including several Access Living staff, founded DRACH to address housing issues faced by people with disabilities.

Since joining the group, Brown and DRACH have worked with the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), encouraging the agencies to update their lists of available housing, ensure units designated as disabled are occupied by people with disabilities, and improve services for people with disabilities. Once, frustrated that its efforts to forge a working relationship hadn’t resulted in a face-to-face dialogue, DRACH attended IHDA’s monthly meeting,. Brown recalls that the IHDA chairperson amended the meeting’s original agenda and allowed each DRACH member to speak about why he or she had come. After the meeting, IHDA committed to meet again and to improve communication about options available to people with disabilities.

Today, Brown wears many hats in the disability community. While he works with DRACH to improve housing options for people with disabilities, he also refers veterans with disabilities who are in search of housing to Access Living, and is training to become a spokesperson. As a spokesperson, Brown will be equipped to speak out at organized public events about housing and civil rights issues that impact people with disabilities.

Remembering his first DRACH meeting, Brown reflected, “I realized that I had something to offer, that I could get something done for people with disabilities.”