Tuesday, January 17, 2023 by Chad Swiatecki
Advocates in the city’s disability community are pushing for the addition of people with disabilities to the preferred vendor category, which is considered for contracting opportunities as part of the Minority Business and Women’s Business Program.
At last week’s meeting of the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities, members discussed their ongoing difficulty in persuading the city to expand its criteria for considering underrepresented groups in city contracts, despite years of demanding Small and Minority Business Resources for Workers.
Commissioner Robin Orlowski raised the issue as an agenda item at the group’s February meeting, noting that Houston includes disability as a criterion for its contracts with minority-owned businesses, while Austin only considers gender and race in awarding its contracts.
“Since another city in Texas already has a disability language, the city of Austin can do it and it’s acceptable. Austin should allow disabled business owners to participate in city programs, and if disabled business owners are excluded, they can unable to function effectively.”
In budget requests and other proposals in recent years, the commission has asked the city to open up its contracting process and provide more opportunities for businesses owned by people with disabilities to be considered minorities.
Commissioner Deborah Trejo reflected on recent discussions with city staff on the issue and the slights she and other advocates felt.
“They said we can’t do it, you guys are crazy, so basically go take the leap. I hold back because I don’t agree with them, and I feel like that concern is being brushed aside because, to them, it’s Not feasible,” she said. “It’s an impossibility they’re not willing to pursue — the possibility that people with disabilities as a class are prioritized when they sign contracts with cities.”
Trejo, who is a lawyer, said the city should conduct a new study looking at the discrepancies between city contracts awarded to different minority groups.
“I’m very disappointed in the call we made to the last disparity study … it was very general, very general and sketchy, without a lot of statistics,” she said. “It’s a very weak sauce for anything we’re doing to change the city.”
At the October meeting of the City Council Audit and Finance Committee, Edward Campos, manager of the Office of Small and Minority Businesses, presented the results of a recently completed disparity study that looked at the frequency with which the city hired minorities in recent years The records of ethnic contractors fit the demographics of these groups in the region. The study did not include findings on contracts awarded to businesses owned by people with disabilities because the office did not take those factors into account.
Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter is pushing to include disabled business owners in the city’s guidelines for awarding contracts to minorities.
“I think (the disability community) is being overlooked in our current programs, and besides the veterans, we have 20 percent of the deaf people living in Texas living in Austin because of the Texas School for the Deaf. There are some There is a real opportunity to take advantage of what they can offer our communities through our purchases.”
Campos said incorporating disability standards into city contract requirements would be handled by the procurement office because his office can only address race and gender issues related to small businesses.
Photo provided under Creative Commons license.
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