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City moving ahead with quality-of-life study of people with disabilities

Thursday, February 13, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is moving ahead with a quality-of-life study of people living with disabilities in Austin, making progress on one of the top priorities for the Mayor’s Committee for People With Disabilities.

During a budget forum last week, committee members said they did not have adequate data to make recommendations on budget priorities related to the disabled community. City staff said a program manager attached to civil rights efforts has been assigned to the study, which is expected to take about a year. City Council included a one-time $200,000 allocation in this year’s budget to cover the cost of the study.

The lack of a comprehensive quality-of-life study similar to those completed for other minority groups in recent years has been a point of contention for the disability committee since last year, when it began pushing for the city to initiate the process. Advocates for other minority groups have said the data and feedback gathered in other quality-of-life studies have helped reinforce the need for budget requests related to facilities, programming and other resources specific to those groups.

“We know there’s chronic areas of problem and access,” committee member Deborah Trejo said. “We’ve talked about them, from bathrooms at ACL Fest and South by Southwest and all these places where there haven’t been gender-neutral bathrooms big enough so an adult with disabilities can be helped by a person of opposite sex. There’s also parks programming and access and having exclusive programming for people with learning disabilities.

“That study was a recommendation from this committee and our hard work for years. The quality-of-life study is the key thing from which our (budget) recommendations should flow. If you haven’t done it, how are we supposed to have a good handle on where the inequities are within city government?”

Candice Cooper, the program manager who will oversee the study, said she will attend Friday’s joint meeting of the disability committee and the Commission on Seniors and begin gathering input on what those groups expect the study to reflect. She said that input will be used to create the scope of work that will be included in the procurement process to find a vendor to conduct the study.

Cooper said the quality-of-life studies can vary in their approach to gathering data and feedback and the kinds of questions being asked. She pointed to the city’s study of the LGBTQ community, which she said looked at “power analysis and the experiences people have” rather than focusing on needs assessments.

“The whole purpose of the quality-of-life initiative is to be able to identify data and use that data to show the experience for individuals with disabilities, and look at overall what life is like in Austin, so you can identify challenges and be able to make recommendations for how we can improve the overall quality of life,” she said. She pointed to health disparities, safety, transportation, employment and discrimination as some of the top areas of concern that have already been identified.

Committee member Joey Gidseg said the study is needed even though it will arrive too late to help shape considerations for the disabled in the expected fall mass transit bond package.

Gidseg said the city should have had more discussion with the committee prior to Cooper’s assignment to the study, so its members could have pushed for the program manager to be someone with a deep background in issues directly related to the disabled community.

“We don’t know what criteria they used when selecting someone to do this. I think it would have been really great to have been able to give some input into choosing the person doing this because they really should be connected to the disability community to make sure that they’re reaching everyone,” Gidseg said. “If you get someone who I’m sure is otherwise qualified but they’re not connected at all and trying to learn for the first time about our community, then I would be concerned about how thorough they’re going to be to make sure they’re including everyone.”

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