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Civil rights office could take over enforcement of city’s ADA regulations

Monday, March 21, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city may fold enforcement of all concerns related to the Americans with Disabilities Act into the Office of Civil Rights, a change that would take those responsibilities away from human resources staff.

resolution was passed unanimously at this month’s meeting of the Mayor’s Committee for People With Disabilities that asks for the reorganization. Commissioner Robin Orlowski, who has pushed for the change in several meetings, said moving the ADA program to the civil rights office would make it easier for residents needing accommodations of any kind at city facilities.

Orlowski said while human resources can address employment-related needs for the disabled, it is less equipped to handle accessibility for city events such as a May 2021 town hall organized to address interactions between the disabled and the Austin Police Department. Difficulties with accommodations for attendees prompted the call to empower the civil rights office to handle such matters.

Currently all staff resources for the committee are handled through the Office of Civil Rights, which covers issues related to HIV and AIDS, though no other disabilities.

“It’s awkward the (civil rights) office does cover HIV and AIDS which is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but doesn’t cover other disabilities,” Orlowski said. “This is to bring consistency. I don’t think the city realized that when it created the office and placed HIV and AIDS there but left out other disabilities that it could provide better coverage and more consistency by moving it all into civil rights.”

Orlowski added that committee members are occasionally contacted by the public about accessibility concerns, but that as an advisory body with no administrative power it can’t take steps to enforce ADA requirements.

Before asking City Council to approve the recommendation, the committee will ask staff members from human resources and the civil rights office to attend a meeting to discuss the changes and how service to the public might be improved.

The committee also approved a pair of budget requests for Council, asking the city to provide more funding for recreational services for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and improving bathroom accommodations for the physically disabled at Zilker Park.

The recreation request was the recommendation of Committee Member Deborah Trejo, who said there is a severe lack of programming through the Parks and Recreation Department for those with intellectual disabilities. That shortage leads to yearslong waiting lists for programs at the McBeth and the Dottie Jordan recreation centers.

“The problem for the intellectually disabled community is that most private or even other public programming that’s recreational doesn’t include children or adults with intellectual disabilities, so in other words they can’t attend or you have to pay an aide full time to go and be there with your kid if they have any kind of a significant need,” she said.

“Due in part to this committee’s recommendations through the years there has been a little bit of programming for adults with intellectual disabilities. But there is still a significant need. Being out in the community and doing activities and engaged in physical activities is really important for adults for their mental health and physical health.”

The Zilker Park budget request asks for the installation of a single-stall, wheelchair-accessible and gender-neutral bathroom with an adult changing table at the park.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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