My Disability Employment Story

By Stephanie Montalvo ‘ 19


My name is Stephanie Montalvo and I am hard of hearing. I lost my hearing at a very young age but I was never apprehensive about it. This all changed when I started working at a preschool.


A cute little girl with a big smile holding abc blocks on top of her head in her classroom at school.


I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher and when I finally landed the job that gave me the opportunity to fulfill this dream, I was so happy but also very terrified. The reason for this is that I became a preschool teacher in the middle of the pandemic!

Although I was already employed at a school before the pandemic hit, I was working as a classroom aide and that was already hard enough! One of the things that made it hard was that although small children can be very loud, some spoke very softly and it could get difficult to listen to what they  were trying to say when there was a lot of noise from other students in the background. As a teacher, it is important that we are able to hear them because having a conversation is very important to their development at this age. Additionally, we need to be aware of what is going on in the room and make sure the children aren’t saying anything bad or mean things to each other. What helped me survive was lip-reading. I would look at the children and my coworker’s lips as they spoke. This would help me understand what they were saying to me.


A multi ethnic group of preschool children are laying on the floor int heir classroom while sharing a book to read together with their teacher.

But now the pandemic changed everything. I was starting a new position as a lead teacher and everyone had to wear a mask! Unfortunately, this made it really difficult for me to understand them clearly. So to help combat this concern, I asked my two classroom aides to speak louder and use hand gestures. I even gave them small softballs to gently toss at me to get my attention if the noise level in our classroom was really loud. With my new students, I sat them all down and spoke to them about my hearing disability. I showed them that I wear a hearing aid in my ear and explained that I sometimes have a hard time hearing. I explained that when they want to tell me something they must speak loudly and clearly. I also explained that if they all started screaming, I won’t be able to hear their friends and that it can hurt my ears. This helped my students understand how to use their inside voices and also helped the shy children to become more confident with speaking aloud in class. I even went as far as teaching them small sign language such as a bathroom, sad, mad, happy, and thank you!


Little girl learning sign language on the sofa

This experience taught me that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our disabilities or let it stop us from doing something we love. Instead, we should educate others about it and show them that we can do things just like them but in different ways. Educating our workplaces and the people around us will help bring awareness and harmony for everyone. It is important to create awareness so that our workplaces become a safe and inclusive space for all.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1-in-4 adults in the United States live with a disability. The more people who are educated about this, the better the work environment will be for everyone. There will be less discrimination and fewer hate crimes. 

There are a few tips I would like to provide for anyone who might encounter someone with a disability at school or work:

First, get to know the person! Never judge a book by its cover. Ask them what they like or even ask if it is ok if they would like to describe their disability. Secondly, ask them if there is anything you can do to make them feel comfortable in the office, such as if there is accommodation that needs to be implemented. Third, treat them the way you would treat anyone else; make them feel included in conversations or activities. Lastly, when possible provide training on how to make the workplace safe and inclusive for all. 


For additional information and resources regarding how to support those working with a disability, check out the following links: 


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