St. Paul releases report

Equal access for women, minorities and maybe even people with disabilities Improving equal access to St. Paul’s economic opportunities for […]

Equal access for women, minorities and maybe even people with disabilities

Improving equal access to St. Paul’s economic opportunities for women, minorities and people with disabilities is the intent of a plan announced June 5 by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. The plan is in response to an independent audit on inclusion completed in November 2007 after more than four years of pressure by community organizations to change city practices. Those changes would not have included individuals with disabilities without the participation of Kaposia, Inc., a national leader in employment services for persons with disabilities. While the city has fallen short on its participation goals for women and minorities in employment and contracting, most of those goals do not even exist for individuals with disabilities.

In 2003, the Equal Access Working Group was formed by the St. Paul City Council in response to heated testimony at a public hearing about the lack of access to economic opportunities. Kaposia was the only organization representing individuals with disabilities to participate in the public hearing and to work collaboratively with community organizations representing women and minorities throughout this process. For four years, beginning with Mayor Randy Kelly’s administration, the Equal Access Working Group pushed for an independent audit to determine whether the City of St. Paul’s employment and contracting opportunities were providing access for women, minorities and people with disabilities.

In November of 2007, four years after the city council hearing, the long-awaited audit report was completed by the Milwaukee-based Hall Legal Group. This report identified significant shortcomings by the city in accountability, coordination and communication between departments and in resources.

Surprisingly, the Hall Report identified the City of St. Paul as a leader in disability rights for even considering participation goals for individuals with disabilities. In short, St. Paul was a leader because it was doing something in an area in which most cities were doing nothing.

St. Paul’s demonstration of leadership was that it had adopted an employment goal of 10% for people with disabilities in 2006 for the affirmative action plans of contractors doing business with the city and also for the city’s own workforce after ongoing pressure from Kaposia. That goal is 2% higher than adopted by the City of Minneapolis.

After the release of the Hall Group Report, Kaposia challenged Coleman to demonstrate true leadership in disability rights by following through on recommendations made by Kaposia in 2003 and the Hall Report in 2007 by:

• Establishing employment goals for individuals with disabilities on city-funded construction projects to open up more opportunities like the Rondo Community Outreach Library and housing project in which three individuals with developmental disabilities earned union-level wages, a first in the region and possibly in the nation.

• Creating a category for business owners with disabilities in the city’s Vendor Outreach Project, a category which was eliminated by the city in 1995.

• And most importantly, achieving (or even exceeding) the 10% employment goal for individuals with disabilities in the city’s work-force and for contractors doing business with the City of St. Paul. The city reported 4.6% employment for persons with disabilities in March of 2008.

The city’s implementation plan does include the recommendation to create goals for individuals with disabilities. But the true measure of change will be when organizations like Kaposia no longer need to remind anyone that economic opportunities to correct injustices to women and minorities also need to correct injustices to people with disabilities and when every workplace in the Twin Cities reflects equal access for women, minorities and people with disabilities.

The report and a press release are available at www.ci.stpaul.mn.us/index.asp?NID=2566

Carol Rydell is the Service Development Coordinator for Kaposia, a St. Paul-based nonprofit corporation. Kaposia has been a national leader in providing opportunities for thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities and other challenges to access employment. To learn more about Kaposia, go to www.kaposia.com