Thursday, July 17, 2003
By Shia Kapos
The Associated Press
Mayor Richard Daley said Wednesday the city plans to offer tax breaks and other incentives to businesses that hire or are owned by people with disabilities.
Daley, who spoke at an employment fair at Navy Pier for people with disabilities, said he expects companies to contract with businesses owned by people with disabilities "because it's the right thing to do."
The mayor used the job fair to highlight the work of his Task Force on the Employment of People With Disabilities, which will soon start certifying companies owned by or that hire people with disabilities. That list will be distributed to the public and private sector, city officials said, and those companies could be entitled to redevelopment agreements and economic and other incentive programs.
"When a company chooses to relocate, negotiations (about tax breaks) don't include people with disabilities. The mayor has directed the task force to change that," said Gil Selders, the task force's deputy commissioner.
Though the mayor discussed a set-aside program for the disabled in October, the task force said Wednesday that such a program is unlikely for now. It would be next to impossible to prove that companies were frozen out of contracts because of past discrimination, said David Hanson, commissioner of Daley's Office for People With Disabilities.
"You have to show that there is a disadvantage. For the disabled, I don't think you can," he said.
Daley recently said he would consider setting aside contracts for gay- and lesbian-owned businesses that can prove past discrimination.
Chicago's 25 percent and 5 percent set-asides for minorities and women are the subject of a lawsuit in federal court.
So far, the city has 25 companies on a list as being owned by people with disabilities.
None of the 52 companies at Wednesday's job fair are owned by people disabled but all want to hire those workers, officials said, and all could be eligible for incentives once the plan takes effect.
Daley said more than 600,000 Chicago residents live with a disability. About 400,000 of them are 21 to 61 years old and could work but are unemployed, he said.
"It's not because they aren't willing to work. It's because many of them can't find work. It's a tremendous waste of talent and a strain on the city's economy," Daley said.
Participants at the job fair praised the city's efforts.
"Employers tend to be scared because they don't understand the disability. They don't know what they can do to accommodate people with disabilities and that it wouldn't be a hardship," said Donna Willey, a 43-year-old computer trainer whose multiple sclerosis forces her to walk with a cane.
"Sometimes it's as simple as putting in a $12 handbar."
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