In the 1930s, the Michigan Association of the Deaf attempted to revitalize long-standing efforts to establish a labor bureau for the state's three thousand deaf adults. Both economic need and a desire to separate the deaf community from other adults with disabilities spurred this effort. Michigan's deaf leadership opposed association with other groups of people with disabilities, one bureau proponent explained, because such a relationship undermined deaf workers' claim that they needed only the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in the workplace. The Michigan Association's strategy was politically astute. It emphasized the need to educate employers regarding deaf workers and avoided expressing dissatisfaction with current state services. in this way, campaigners gained the backing of state political and labor leaders without antagonizing state vocational rehabilitation officials. As a result, in the spring of 1937, Michigan legislators unanimously voted their support, and Michigan established a bureau for deaf workers, staffed by Jay Cooke Howard, the skilled former NAD president.
High unemployment and dissatisfaction with state services also spurred Pennsylvania's deaf people into action during the Depression. Organized by the powerful Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf (PSAD), which had an estimated one thousand members, the legislative drive was centered on expanding existing state services but at the same time accommodating state personnel. Vocational rehabilitation assistance had been available to Pennsylvania residents since 1919, but it was directed toward veterans, industrial accident victims, and groups with disabilities-not toward deaf adults. Such services were finally made available to deaf people in 1932, but relatively few deaf adults availed themselves of these opportunities.
Pennsylvania's deaf leaders believed that expanding state services would provide the broadest vocational and educational training opportunities to deaf people. Unlike deaf leadership in some other states, they never contended that linkage with other disabled groups would undermine the representation of deaf people as diverse and talented workers. Instead, as in New York, they sought administrative and legislative support for hiring job placement workers fluent in sign language.
Pennsylvania's leaders engineered a vigorous campaign that drew its effectiveness from the deaf community's internal strength. A cascade of letters, telegrams, and petitions produced by deaf residents at the height of the drive in 1937 impressed seasoned state politicians. Next Page