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Disability committee wants study to bring attention, dollars to issues

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The Mayor’s Committee for People With Disabilities has asked city staff to begin gathering information on how to commission a comprehensive report on the quality of life of and prominent issues facing the city’s disabled community.

The committee voted unanimously at Friday’s meeting to move forward with the issue, with members pointing to completed studies from other quality-of-life committees as helping to focus city resources and dollars on problem areas for those groups.

“Other committees have done bits and pieces involving the disabled community, but city departments don’t have this info and it’s why the city isn’t emphasizing disability … they don’t have the data to work with,” committee member Robin Orlowski said. “Simply giving it to them and saying this is why (we are) emphasizing people with disabilities would give them the justification to put it front and center.”

Orlowski pointed to reports created for the Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Quality of Life Advisory Commission and the Commission on Seniors as helping to bring staff and City Council attention to their relevant issues.

During discussion on the resolution, which does not have a timetable, members said transportation, city sidewalks and employment inequality are some of the biggest factors negatively impacting Austin’s disabled community.

The report is expected to be commissioned using an outside contractor to keep it impartial and capture a broad scope of respondents, with the work by students from the University of Texas in other committees’ quality-of-life studies suggesting one possible option.

“If we requested a study about the quality of life for people with disabilities, some of those issues like sidewalks, and transportation, that we’ve talked about for four years and still talk about every month, could be researched and delved into,” committee member Chris Masey said. “It wouldn’t be bad for us to look for ways to deliver a report to Council that gives them some numbers and research about big issues that are vexing barriers that decrease quality of life, and then we could come up with some recommendations.”

Orlowski told the Austin Monitor that committee members feel the lack of focus on issues specific to the disabled community has caused the group’s needs to be overlooked in recent years. As one example, she pointed to the committee’s wish for the city’s Equity Office to hire a director who had experience working with disabled communities.

Also of concern for the committee is its ability to hold quorum for monthly meetings with the turnover of four seats with recent resignations and changeover with the newly sworn-in City Council.

Other issues that have grown in importance include problems with dockless motorized scooters in many areas in the city that block rights of way and curb access for people with disabilities.

“City Council seems to be only focusing on one component of inequity, and that’s because they’re looking at other quality-of-life studies with complete statistical packages and can go to departments and use that to get their attention,” she said. “This committee existed prior to the Equity Office, but feels edged out with an overfocus on race. Hopefully bringing this study to fruition to emphasize the size and the role of the disabled community … we’d be able to focus on multiple components, including ableism.”

Photo by Carlos Martinez made available through a Creative Commons license.

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