web analytics
December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Jews and the First Wave of the American Disability Inclusion Movement: The League of the Physically Handicapped, 1935-1939


The American Inclusion Movement’s First Wave, which was focused solely on Inclusion in the workforce, has been almost entirely forgotten.   It occurred in the 1930’s, decades before the 1960’s zeitgeist brought about broader and more famous changes in pro-disability policy, architectural barriers, and independent living.  The First Wave was led by a mostly Jewish cohort of young, militant, disabled activists from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side who called themselves the League of the Physically Handicapped (LPH). The LPH was the very first mobility impaired disability-rights group in recorded history.  Its leader, Sylvia Bassoff, is the forgotten mother of what would become the wider Disability Inclusion Movement in the United States.

Sylvia Bassoff was one of the victims of the 1916 polio outbreak.  She was stricken at sixteen months old and was partially paralyzed from the neck down. Her parents, Jewish émigrés from Eastern Europe, provided a disability-accepting Yiddish/English-speaking household where she and her three siblings were saturated in a rich Jewish cultural and political atmosphere. That  setting  most certainly served at the foundation for her future as one of the most successful, if obscure, Jewish political agitators in American history.  Bassoff grew up with the sense that anyone—whether a disadvantaged Jewish immigrant or a disabled person—has a right to live and work unimpeded by prejudice or policy.

When Bassoff turned eighteen, armed with self-confidence, ambition, and youthful energy, she struck out on her own and began to look for work.  However, the reality of life as a disabled person in the 1930’s shattered her expectations that the world would be as accepting and as her upbringing had been.  Not only was she job-searching in the middle of the worst economic depression in American history, but she was obviously disabled, relying heavily on a set of crutches.  Even after attending the elite Drake Business School and finishing at the top of her secretarial class, she watched as less efficient but able-bodied classmates were hired instead of her.

Finally, at the age of nineteen, she had to take a position as an envelope stuffer in a mass-mailing fundraising department at a charity that hired only persons with disabilities.  Bassoff and her officemates viewed the work as degrading and segregationist.

Franklin Roosevelt had recently been elected President and his successes in spite of his mobility impairment from polio made him a hero among the disabled population. In response to the grim realities of the Depression, Roosevelt revamped the moribund Emergency Relief Bureau (ERB)—today’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) – and fully implemented the WPA program.  However, even though the President himself was mobility impaired, no disabled people were being hired by these Federal programs.

Young Sylvia Bassoff and colleagues viewed the WPA as the only way out of the charity sector of the workforce.  After all, the WPA hired other marginalized populations, such as Jews, thanks to a standardized civil service test.  However, these fair hiring practices seemed to stop with the disabled.  Bassoff and thirty of her sheltered workshop colleagues, none of them with any experience in organizing or advocacy, nervously met in secret to discuss a way out of segregated charity work and into Inclusion in the workforce.

In May,  1935, the group finally acquired concrete evidence of how the disabled population was being excluded from government jobs.  The WPA and ERB employment applications had a formalized discrimination system in which the page was stamped “PH” for “Physically Handicapped” upon the conclusion of a job interview.  This code meant an immediate rejection of the candidate, regardless of qualifications or aptitude.  Led by Bassoff, the group of young Jewish disability activists formalized their social action group. They dubbed themselves the League of the Physically Handicapped (LPH) and set out on a campaign to deal directly with the WPA policy-makers.

The LPH began their campaign to acquire WPA jobs by visiting the New York City Satellite office of the Emergency Relief Bureau (ERB), where they staged what was probably the first civil-rights sit-in in history.  They entrenched themselves in the ERB office and  picketed for close to a week, marching on crutches and in wheelchairs at a time when the disabled were virtually invisible.  In a chaotic New York City street scene, protesters chanted critical slogans aimed at the ERB Commissioner, who declared that the government owes nothing to the disabled but institutions and home relief. He then made the self-defeating decision to subject some of the non-violent disabled activists to arrests and rough treatment in front of crowds of able-bodied sympathizers and reporters, with predictably negative press fallout.

About the Author: Deborah Berman, LCSW, is the Senior Social Worker at Yachad, National Jewish Council for Disabilities.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Jews and the First Wave of the American Disability Inclusion Movement: The League of the Physically Handicapped, 1935-1939”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Moshe Kachlon (L) and Avigdor Liberman (R)
Liberman’s Secret Plan to be Crowned Prime Minister
Latest Sections Stories
South-Florida-logo

The incident was completely unforeseeable. The only term to describe the set of circumstances surrounding it is “freak occurrence.”

South-Florida-logo

The first Chabad Center in Broward County, Chabad of South Broward, now runs nearly fifty programs and agencies. T

South-Florida-logo

The NHS was also honored to have Bob Diener as keynote speaker.

Written with flowing language and engaging style, Attar weaves a spell that combines mystery, humor, adventure and Kabbalah in the most magical place in the world, the Old City of erusalem.

There are those who highlight the diversity of these different teachings, seeing each rebbe as teaching a separate path.

Rav Dynovisz will be speaking in Hebrew on Wednesday, January 7, at 7:30 p.m.

Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, senior chaplain at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, saw a small room in the hospital that was dark and dismal but could be used for Sabbath guests.

“The secret to a good donut is using quality ingredients and the ability to be patient and give them time to proof.”

I so desperately want to have a loving relationship with my stepsons.

The Liberty Bell is a symbol of American Independence.

Because you can’t have kids pouring huge jugs of oil into tiny glasses, unless you want to turn your house into an environmental disaster.

Try these with your kids; there’s something for every age group and once all the recipes are made, dinner will be ready!

You children will build the country and you will help restore Israel to her former glory.

More Articles from Deborah Berman

The American Inclusion Movement’s First Wave, which was focused solely on Inclusion in the workforce, has been almost entirely forgotten. It occurred in the 1930’s, decades before the 1960’s zeitgeist brought about broader and more famous changes in pro-disability policy, architectural barriers, and independent living.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/health/jews-and-the-first-wave-of-the-american-disability-inclusion-movement-the-league-of-the-physically-handicapped-1935-1939/2013/04/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: