Commission wants to add disabled business owners to minority contracting pool

Tuesday, January 17, 2023 Chad Swiatecki

Advocates for the city’s disability community are calling for people with disabilities to be added to the preferred class of vendors considered contracting opportunities as part of the Minority-Owned Enterprises and Women-Owned Enterprises program.

At last week’s meeting of the Mayors’ Commission on Disabilities, members said despite years of asking city council and city officials to consider underrepresented groups for city contracts. We discussed the ongoing difficulties we experienced in persuading the City to expand the standards for Small Business Resources.

Commissioner Robin Orlowski brought the issue up as an agenda item for the group’s February meeting, and while Houston includes disability in its criteria for minority business contracts, Austin does not consider gender when awarding contracts. He pointed out that he considered only race-based considerations.

“Another Texas city already has a language for people with disabilities, so the city of Austin can do it and it will be accepted. It will not work effectively if disabled business owners are left out.”

In recent budget requests and other recommendations, the commission has asked the city to open the contracting process to increase opportunities for disabled-owned businesses to be considered a minority class.

Commissioner Deborah Trejo recalled a recent discussion with city officials about the issue and the disrespect she and other advocates felt.

“They said there is no way we can do it. You guys are crazy so basically take the leap. “I objected because I felt my concerns were dispelled because there was no such thing,” she said. It is the potential of disabled people as a class.”

Trejo, an attorney, said the city should conduct a new study looking at disparities between city contracts given to various minority groups.

“I was really disappointed in the judgments I made on my last disparity study…it was very general, very summary and cursory, and didn’t have a lot of statistical data,” she said. “As long as we were doing something to change things in the city, it was a pretty weak source.”

At the October meeting of the City Council’s Audit and Finance Committee, small business office manager Edward Campos announced the results of the recently completed inequality study. In line with the regional demographic patterns of these groups. The study did not include findings on contracts awarded to businesses owned by persons with disabilities.

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

“I think[the disabled community]is overlooked in our current non-veterans programs. Thanks to Texas School for the Deaf, 20% of Deaf people in Texas live in Austin. There are some real opportunities to leverage what they can offer our community through procurement.”

Campos said incorporating disability criteria into the city’s contract requirements will be handled by the procurement office because his office can only address race- and gender-based issues related to small businesses.

Photos available through a Creative Commons license.

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