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Study points to transportation, education needs for disabled community

Tuesday, June 21, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Preliminary findings from a quality-of-life study for Austin residents with disabilities suggest the city needs to improve transportation options, expand educational opportunities and improve communications with the larger disabled community.

Last week, at a combined meeting of the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and the Commission on Seniors, representatives from Boston-based Public Consulting Group presented the preliminary results of a study that was based largely on surveys and some feedback sessions with groups involved in disability issues. The study is still being finalized based on input from the committee and other stakeholders, and will be distributed to City Council and boards and commissions once it is complete.

Other recommendations discussed at the meeting include having the city focus on creating more partnerships with the disability community, and promoting awareness of the Americans With Disabilities Act and other relevant matters with the local business community.

The survey results were divided into six areas: overall well-being, material well-being, interpersonal relations and social inclusion, self-determination, environment and transportation.

While respondents rated their quality of life as good, they were less optimistic about their health, while being satisfied with where they live. The majority said they didn’t know where to access resources related to employment, and many felt the city doesn’t listen to people with disabilities.

The majority of respondents across all disabilities said they were seldom able to participate in their preferred activities when they wanted to, especially outside of the home, in part because of a lack of transportation options.

Specific to transportation, the top three priorities were improving access to public transit, reducing traffic congestion, and improving the condition and number of sidewalks.

Brittani Trujillo, senior consultant for Public Consulting Group, said the survey experienced a low level of responses, with only around 120 participants. She said the poor response rate was likely due in part to concerns about Covid-19 exposure while also noting that the committee had a string of canceled meetings that made it hard to enlist its help in spreading the word.

Committee members expressed concern that the study appeared to rely almost entirely on the data and opinions gathered from survey responses and did not incorporate outside data from state bodies, the University of Texas, or nonprofit groups that would have offered more clarity on quality of life for those with disabilities in the Austin area.

“One of the things I’m not hearing you talk about are other statistics about people with disabilities in Austin,” committee member Deborah Trejo said. “I feel like there have to be significant statistics in this report looking at a higher level pulling from census bloc data or other sources … looking at the percentage of people with disabilities who are employed, and one of the things that prompted us to ask for this survey was learning that city contracting does not treat a disability as a disadvantage for disadvantaged business contracting.”

Trujillo said the presentation was still a work in progress and that the final product would incorporate more findings and specific recommendations.

Committee member Diane Kearns-Osterweil said she and others need as much hard data in the study to make effective budget requests and other recommendations to City Council related to disability issues.

“My hope is that when we look at this study we’ll be able to see that there are clear action items that we can use for our recommendations for services, programs and for budget recommendations.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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