Chapter 6 of Illusions of Equality continued…
Back to the Last Page.
Ignatius Bjorlee, the superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf, was likely the most persistent CCC Critic. A hearing graduate of Gallaudet College who was raised with deaf brothers, the perceptive Bjorlee debated with CCC administrators and Congress between 1935 and 1940 in a dogged campaign to roll back the exclusionary policy. He thought the exclusion to be baseless. "Society was perfectly willing to absorb the deaf in practically all lines of activity when there was a shortage of labor," he explained, "but with this shortage removed we are given to understand that the deaf, because of their handicap, are incompetent to do those things which they were doing in a most satisfactory manner prior to the present labor crisis."

Never successfully altered, the CCC's exclusionary policy provides a case study of the ways that hearing officials relied upon stereotype and self-interest to dismiss deaf demands for equal treatment. CCC administrators typically responded to critics by claiming that deaf men posed undue accident risks, although they never provided data to support their contention. In fact, program leaders flatly rejected proposals from officials in Minnesota and Mississippi that the CCC cosponsor trial camps to provide such data." Some CCU administrators also stereotyped deaf adults as inadequate workers, suggesting that prejudice was at the heart of their reluctance to accept them in their programs. At one congressional hearing, CCC officials ridiculed the prospect of employing deaf men by countering that they were not running an "asylum." Ultimately, though, bureaucratic self-interest rather than intractable prejudice was probably the greatest impediment to deaf applicants. In April 1935, Fechner conceded that deaf men could work at some positions but further explained that their admission would likely encourage other "handicapped" groups to demand inclusion. Expansion of the CCC workforce to include these other groups, he insisted, would be a "real menace" to safety.

Deaf adults might have been included in the corps if Fechner and other administrators had not misrepresented them as afflicted and undesirable hazards but rather had accorded them the status of other minority groups. For example, CCC administrators established projects for almost one hundred thousand Native Americans and were pressured into including African Americans into Camps.

Fortunately, all New Deal administrators did not share the actions and attitudes of CCC personnel. The WPA admitted deaf workers, but the workers often had to negotiate with inexperienced and misinformed officials who doubted deaf workers' ability to be integrated successfully into the massive and diverse jobs program. Founded in May 1935, the WPA employed roughly two million men, women, and students, including an undetermined number of deaf adults. The scope of conflicts between deaf participants and WPA administrators first came to light in 1937 when Marcus Kenner, NAD president, was deluged by letters after he asked deaf adults to report instances of unfair treatment. Next Page

Back to the newsletter
New books
Gallaudet University Press Homepage