Tuesday, January 17, 2023 by Chad Swiatecki
Advocates for the city’s disabled community are pushing for people with disabilities to be added to the preferred class of vendors considered for contracting opportunities as part of the Minority-Owned Business Enterprise and Woman-Owned Business Enterprise Program.
At last week’s meeting of the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, members discussed the ongoing difficulties they’ve experienced in convincing the city to expand its criteria for considering underrepresented groups for city contracts, despite years of asking City Council and staff in the office of Small and Minority Business Resources.
Commissioner Robin Orlowski raised the issue as an agenda item for the group’s February meeting, noting that Houston includes disabilities in its criteria for minority business contracting while Austin only considers gender- and race-based considerations for awarding its contracts.
“Since another Texas city already has disability language, the city of Austin could do it and it would be acceptable. Austin should be allowing business owners who have disabilities to have access to city programs, and they’re not operating effectively if business owners with disabilities are excluded.”
In budget requests and other recommendations in recent years, the committee has asked the city to open its contracting process to make more opportunities available for businesses owned by the disabled to be considered a minority class.
Commissioner Deborah Trejo recalled recent discussions with city staff over the issue and the feeling of dismissiveness she and other advocates felt.
“They said there’s no way we can do it, you guys are crazy so basically go take a leap. I pushed back because I disagree with them and sort of felt brushed aside over the concern, because to them this is not feasible,” she said. “It was a nonstarter they were not willing to pursue – the possibility of people with disabilities as a class of people that would receive preference in contracting with the city.”
Trejo, who is an attorney, said the city should conduct a new study looking at the disparity between city contracts awarded to various minority groups.
“I’ve been real disappointed with the call we made on the last disparity study … it was very generic and very summary and cursory and didn’t have a lot of statistical data,” she said. “It was pretty weak sauce as far as us doing anything to change anything in the city.”
At the October meeting of City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, Edward Campos, manager of the Small and Minority Business office, presented the results of a recently completed disparity study that looked at the city’s track record in recent years of hiring minority contractors at a frequency in line with the area’s demographic patterns for those groups. The study did not include findings for contracts awarded to businesses owned by a disabled person because the office doesn’t take those factors into consideration.
Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter pushed for inclusion of business owners with disabilities in the city’s rubric for awarding contracts to minority groups.
“I think (the disability community) is overlooked in our current program beyond veterans, and we have 20 percent of the deaf people who live in Texas live in Austin because of the Texas School for the Deaf. There’s some real opportunities to take advantage of what they can offer our community through our procurement.”
Campos said building disability criteria into city contracting requirements would be handled by the procurement office because his office is only capable of addressing race- and gender-based issues related to small businesses.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available hereand our code of ethics is explained here.
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We’re a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?