Disability Employment Awareness Chapel

During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, fourth and fifth grade science teacher Katie Behrmann talked with the upper division in Chapel about the challenges faced by people with disabilities and how the laws and practices of New York City and the entire nation affect them. Ms. Behrmann, who is also a member of the school’s DEIL (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leadership) Team, explained the work that people with disabilities have had to do throughout history to be treated fairly. 

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) wasn’t passed until 1990,” she said. “This is the law that prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in employment and other areas of society. So, people with disabilities didn’t enjoy basic civil until only 30 years ago.” 

Ms. Behrmann reminded students that this advancement would not have been possible had people with disabilities not fought for these basic human rights. “It wasn’t the people in charge who made these policy changes,” she said. “It fell on people with disabilities to protest endlessly for basic rights just to be heard.” Ms. Behrmann shared photographs from the Capitol Crawl, a 1990 protest that was a catalyst for the ADA.

“Citizens of this country, simply by being born in a different body, couldn’t access the place where laws are made in this country,” she said. “So they dragged themselves up the steps of Capitol building.”

Ms. Behrmann pointed to an experience that is very familiar to St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s: riding the subway. “Exactly 75 percent of MTA stations don’t have an elevator. That means people with mobility issues or wheelchair users have to take massive detours, often going more than 10 stops without any way of getting out of subway,” she said. “And what about stations with elevators? Those elevators break down on average about 53 times a year. People with mobile disabilities face literal obstacles just to get to work. This is just one example of how our society fails its marginalized members.”

Calling to mind the words of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, Ms. Behrmann reminded students of their responsibility to stand up for those who face discrimination: “‘Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.’ For a more fair society, we need to advocate for and act on widespread change that makes this society more fair for everyone.”