My Turn: Fighting ‘ableism’ in private and religious schools

For the Monitor
Published: 12/1/2019 6:15:15 AM

If over 90% of New Hampshire’s K-12 private and religious schools lacked an anti-discrimination provision in their institution’s admission policy for female students, we would identify the policy as sexist. And illegal.

If over 90% of New Hampshire’s K-12 private and religious schools lacked an anti-discrimination provision in their institution’s admission policy for nonwhite students, we would identify the policy as racist. And illegal. Socio-economic status? Classist, elitist. And illegal. Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender? Discriminatory based on sexual orientation. And illegal.

Currently over 90% of New Hampshire’s K-12 private and religious schools lack an anti-discrimination provision in their institution’s admission policy for students who experience a disability. Any disability. Physical, medical, genetic, emotional, learning. Over 90%.

Such a lack of codified discrimination protections constitutes what is termed ableism.

Ableism is the belief a person with a disability is inferior. The behavioral expression of prejudice propagated mainly by the intolerance and rejection of certain people. Despite the advances in medical, psychological and educational sectors to level the playing field, oppression remains.

Ableism is deeply rooted in American society. It’s so entrenched in private institutions, most aren’t even aware it exists. Imagine attending a K-12 school and never learning with – or about – anyone who experiences any form of difference. Any form of disability. Because a simple lack of policy allowed them to be rejected and their need for accommodations denied.

Would the graduate who becomes an employer later in life ever be inclined to hire someone with a disability on equal terms? See them for their capacity? Or would they continue to facilitate the “Need not apply” culture?

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Association of University Centers on Disability conference near Capitol Hill. There was a focus on ableism and reversing institutionalized oppression.

Leading the opening plenary session was Haben Girma, the first deaf and blind graduate of Harvard Law (2013). Her focus was on celebrating difference as an asset. Working to get us to the point where all disabled students have the same choices as non-disabled students.

Corporate sponsors of the conference, such as Anthem, Biogen, Centene, Chase, CVS, Sprint, Uber, Verizon, Walmart, etc., suggest graduates of schools that do not protect the rights of applicants and students who experience disabilities may have a rude awakening if they try to find work at a company such as theirs that hires and values a diverse work force.

Poking the bear of oppression often brings about faux outrage. Ironically, most often by the oppressors themselves. Sham theologians who support conversion therapy and child marriage. Illegitimate politicians who in defense of the U.S. and New Hampshire constitutions oppose another’s First Amendment rights.

Experience shows us they are no match at the ballot box for their one in eight constituents in New Hampshire who experience a disability.

It has been heartening to hear personally from so many constituents, citizens, colleagues, employers, parents, veterans, educators and, yes, even school administrators from New Hampshire’s finest K-12 private and religious schools, who want to see change made to anti-discrimination provisions of their admission policies.

I look forward to working with you. All of you.

(Tamara Le represents Rockingham District 31 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)




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