Damaging actions by federal and state administrators and a fear of dependence spurred most deaf leaders to oppose direct federal financial assistance to deaf adults, such as that available to visually-impaired citizens. The Social Security Act of 1935, for example, funded sheltered workshops and pensions for blind and visually-impaired citizens considered incapable of securing regular employment. Deaf leaders not only faulted these initiatives, but they intermittently chided recipients of this support.
Deaf people's critiques of special assistance programs for disabled persons were both incisive and troubling. Deaf leaders understood that schooling and the chance to demonstrate their skills were more important than cash payments that lifted recipients from poverty but left in place its root causes. Equally important, deaf leaders and some blind activists feared that state and private employers would seize upon pensions or special programs as evidence that they had no responsibility to alter discriminatory practices. However, these criticisms, although sometimes insightful and rooted in a positive ethos of "independent citizenship," failed to fully consider or appreciate the plight of workers with disabilities.
Negative relations with governmental agencies also undermined innovative proposals that federal officials provide guaranteed jobs for deaf adults. In 1934 and again in 1937, newspaper publisher Willard Wood asked the president and Eleanor Roosevelt to establish a printing plant to be managed by deaf employees. Marcus Kenner, NAD president from 1934 to 1940, was the most prominent proponent of mandated employment, and in 1937 he asked FDR to establish government jobs for deaf workers. Similarly, in 1938, New Jersey resident David Davidowitz called for legislation to establish mandated jobs for deaf workers and for all adults with disabilities. Outright opposition to these ideas circulated quickly throughout the deaf community, though, and they soon disappeared from the pages of newspapers. Most deaf leaders strongly disavowed any ties with disabled workers, and they were increasingly angry with government administrators.
As deaf people debated the possibilities and pitfalls of government employment, various state investigations revealed private employers' resistance to hiring deaf workers was growing as the Depression continued. A 1937 survey, for example, indicated that 60 of 150 employers from Milwaukee would not hire deaf applicants regardless of the circumstances. Furthermore, among the companies surveyed by the Indiana Association of the Deaf in 1936, one manager explained that the past successes of deaf industrial workers were irrelevant: he would turn away deaf applicants as long as there was a surplus of hearing workers. Next Page