Cover image for Illusions of equality : deaf Americans in school and factory, 1850-1950
Illusions of equality : deaf Americans in school and factory, 1850-1950
Buchanan, Robert M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Gallaudet University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvii, 214 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


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HV2530 .B83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the mid-1850s to the post-World War II era, Deaf Americans typically sought to deemphasize their identity as sign language users to be integrated better into the workforce. But in his absorbing book Illusions of Equality, Robert Buchanan shows that events during this period would thwart these efforts. The residential schools for deaf students in the 19th century stressed the use of American Sign Language while also recognizing the value of learning English. But the success of this system was disrupted by the rise of oralism, with its commitment to teaching deaf children speech and its ban of sign language. Buchanan depicts the consequences in sobering terms: most deaf students left school with limited educations and abilities that qualified them only for marginal jobs. He also describes the Deaf community's male hierarchy insistence through the end of World War II on individual responsibility, tactics that continually failed to earn job security for deaf workers. Illusions of Equality is an original, edifying work that will be appreciated for years to come.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Buchanan thoughtfully explores the plight of deaf Americans, a group generally ignored even in studies of social movements. Focusing on the period between the mid-point of the 19th and 20th centuries, Buchanan highlights the often-painful experiences of deaf men and women who sought to enter the workforce. In the process, they confronted all sorts of impediments, including many resulting from well-intentioned but paternalistic people. Most damaging of all, Buchanan convincingly argues, was the favoring by countless governmental and educational administrators of oral communication over sign language, something resisted by many deaf people and their champions. Gender and racial considerations also came into play, as deaf individuals of color and those who were female had additional hurdles to overcome. The author acknowledges that deaf leaders were sometimes divided among themselves regarding the role government should play in affording employment opportunities, while pointing to incomplete reform efforts undertaken in a state like early-20th-century Minnesota and by Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. The marked success of deaf workers in industrial plants during WW II refuted theories regarding their purportedly limited abilities in the workplace. Recommended for all readers. R. C. Cottrell; California State University, Chico