The contradictory administration of state and federal relief programs corroded relations between deaf leaders and state and federal officials. On the one hand, New Deal initiatives assisted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaf men and women by providing them with varied, if limited, employment opportunities. On the other hand, the pattern of individual discrimination and wholesale exclusion greatly troubled wary deaf leaders, some of whom concluded that arbitrary administrators turned away competent deaf adults almost as readily as they provided assistance.
Vulnerable deaf workers and leaders increasingly worried about the heightened influence of these governmental administrators as the nation's economy continued to tumble through the 1930s. That deaf workers had to enlighten hearing adults about their schooling, training, and abilities was not at all new. The growing number of work programs, however, seemed to greatly magnify the influence of often misinformed professionals. Deaf adults, worried Iowa's Tom Anderson, were now "at the mercy of the 'welfare worker,' the 'placement officer,' or anyone clothed with some fancy title and charged with finding jobs." The prospect of this dependence greatly troubled otherwise independent deaf adults, perhaps as much as their economic worries.
Anderson's concerns about the dangers of relying on uninformed professionals were well founded -- at least according to job seekers in New York City. In the fall of 1933, deaf adults had initially welcomed Margarette Hemle, who had been hired by area schools to assist deaf alumni in finding work. Inexperienced with deaf adults and unable to sign, however, Hemle faced the formidable task of securing jobs for graduates as well as the stream of adults who turned to her for assistance. Within a year, angry critics charged that she pressured deaf applicants into accepting subminimum wage positions. Federal advocates had established this wage category -- set at 75 percent of the standard minimum wage -- as an inducement to employers to hire disabled workers. Deaf leaders, who did not see deaf workers as disabled, initially paid little attention to the subminimum wage issue until complaints about Hemle's practices were exposed. Next Page