The commission wants to add disabled business owners to the minority contracting pool

Tuesday, January 17, 2023 Chad Swiatecki

Advocates for the city’s disability community are pushing to add people with disabilities to the preferred class of suppliers considered for contracting opportunities under the Minority-Owned Business and Women-Owned Business Program.

At last week’s meeting of the Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, members discussed the ongoing difficulties they’ve faced in convincing the city to expand its criteria for considering underrepresented groups for city contracts, despite years of requests from the City Council and staff in the Office of Small and Medium-Sized Resources. minority companies.

Commissioner Robin Orlowski made the issue an agenda item for the group’s February meeting, noting that Houston includes disability in its criteria for contracting jobs with minorities, while Austin only considers gender and race when awarding its contracts.

“Since another Texas city already has disability language, the city of Austin could do that and it would be acceptable. Austin should give disabled business owners access to city programs, and they don’t work effectively if disabled business owners are excluded.”

In budget requests and other recommendations in recent years, the board has asked the city to open up its contracting process to allow more opportunities for businesses owned by people with disabilities to be considered a minority class.

Commissioner Deborah Trejo recalled recent conversations with city staff about the issue and the sense of belittlement she and other advocates felt.

“They said there’s no way we can do it, you’re crazy so actually go and jump. I gave up because I don’t agree with them and in a way I felt rejected because of the concern, because it’s not feasible for them,” she said. “It was a knee-jerk move that they weren’t willing to pursue — the possibility that people with disabilities as a class of people would have an advantage in contracting with the city.”

Trejo, who is an attorney, said the city should conduct a new study to examine differences between city contracts awarded to different minority groups.

“I was really disappointed with the call we put out for the last disparity study … it was very general and very summary and superficial and didn’t include a lot of statistical information,” she said. “It was pretty weak sauce in terms of doing anything to change anything in the city.”

At the October meeting of the City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, Edward Campos, director of the Office of Small and Minority Business, presented the results of a recently completed disparity study that looked at the city’s track record over the past few years of frequently hiring minority contractors. in accordance with the demographic patterns of the area for those groups. The study did not include findings for contracts awarded to companies owned by people with disabilities because the bureau does not take those factors into account.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter pushed for the inclusion of business owners with disabilities in the city’s column for awarding contracts to minority groups.

“I think (the disability community) is overlooked in our current programming except for veterans, and we have 20 percent of the deaf people who live in Texas who live in Austin because of the Texas School for the Deaf. There are some real opportunities to take advantage of what I can offer our community through our acquisition.”

Campos said the procurement office will handle the incorporation of disability criteria into the city’s contracting requirements because his office is only capable of handling race and gender issues related to small businesses.

The photo is available through a Creative Commons license.

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