Braille Monitor                                                 July 2011

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What Did Jacobus TenBroek Mean by “Public Welfare”?

by Ed Morman

A Look Back at Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind

by Jacobus tenBroek and Floyd Matson
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959)

From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is Librarian Ed Morman's description of another book in the collection:

TenBroek and Rights

In this woodcut two blind students of the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, the Parisian school with which Louis Braille was associated, are depicted operating a printing press. Printing was one of the professions blind people in France were often trained in during the early nineteenth century.Jacobus tenBroek was a prolific writer, capable of expressing himself clearly and succinctly to very different audiences. To lawyers and law professors he was the respected author of legal arguments that redefined the notion of “rights” and thus helped shape post-World War II social policy in the United States. To the agencies of the blindness establishment and the well-meaning professionals who work for them, he was a fearless and fearsome champion of those whose capacity for living independently was sometimes minimized or even denied. To members of the NFB he was a bold orator, an inspirational speaker, and the font of ideas that would improve the circumstances of the blind in the U.S. and around the world.

Among his speeches, law review articles, and textbook chapters, tenBroek wrote three books that straddle the gap between the scholarly and the popular. Two of these deal with racial or ethnic groups who had been denied the rights and protections that most Americans take for granted. Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment expanded on tenBroek’s earlier article, “The Equal Protection of the Laws,” and helped create a constitutional argument for the end of legal discrimination against African Americans. A few years later Prejudice, War and the Constitution attacked the Supreme Court decision that supported the federal government’s World War II internment of people (including American citizens) of Japanese descent. As a blind person tenBroek understood that the blind constitute a minority that experiences discrimination, much like racial minorities or people of unpopular national origin.

TenBroek knew that the rights of a minority could be challenged on any number of bases, and he spoke up on behalf of any group that suffered discrimination. Race, national origin, and disability were three of the areas that he wrote about. A fourth was socioeconomic status. For more than a decade he was a member, and then chairman, of the California State Board of Social Welfare, and his work in welfare law remains highly regarded more than forty years after his death. As early as the 1940s he argued that poor people, regardless of race, merited special protection because of systematic discrimination against the indigent in state laws. Many welfare rights advocates see his work as foundational, just as activists on behalf of the disabled recognize that tenBroek’s legal scholarship stands behind their work.

Rights, Welfare, and the Blind

TenBroek and Matson open Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind with a clear statement of their purpose and scope: “This book presents a study of American social provisions for the welfare and security of the blind. As such, its boundaries are conservatively defined on both sides; it is neither an exhaustive survey of all aspects of public welfare nor a comprehensive history of all activities for the blind.”

In other words, “welfare and security” are not the only concerns of blind people (far from it), but welfare and security are indeed concerns of the blind. TenBroek believed that this was a necessary aspect of the program of the organized blind. For the blind, especially those blind people who were denied the opportunity to live as equals, “social provision of their welfare and security” was their right as citizens.

This position is evident in the original logo of the NFB, a concentric circle and triangle, bearing three words: Security, Opportunity, and Equality. TenBroek believed that security and opportunity for the blind are rights. The former may involve cash payments; the latter includes, among other things, rehabilitation and proper training in the skills needed to live independently. As for equality, a reciprocal relationship exists between good public welfare policy and equality for the blind. On the one hand, public policy must derive from the understanding that the blind are indeed the equals of other citizens. On the other hand, a measure of the success of public policy is the degree to which it guarantees equality to the blind in practice.

In the introduction and part I tenBroek and Matson first point out that the blind can be found in any number of social roles—from criminal to judge, from blood donor to gambler—and that they have been the object of discrimination in each role. The authors then insist that the blind are no less mentally competent, emotionally stable, or socially adaptable than anyone else and that the needs of the blind are “those of ordinary people...caught at a physical and social disadvantage.”

Moving to the implications for public policy, tenBroek and Matson describe those ideas and actions that meet the needs of the blind and those that don’t. To meet the needs of the blind, public policy must

Public policy that fails to meet the needs of the blind:

For the blind—as for any group “caught at a physical or social disadvantage”—public policy must provide services as a right. Those services should encourage a sense of equality and independence. They must contribute to the ability of the blind to compete successfully on an equal basis with the general population.

Security and Opportunity:
Two Aspects of the Relationship between Public Welfare and the Blind

TenBroek's attachment to the original NFB logo and motto is evident in the remainder of the book. Part II is called “Security.” Part III is called “Opportunity.” The third key concept, “Equality,” is present by implication throughout the work.

After a historical review of public assistance from the Poor Laws of Elizabethan England through the enactment of the Social Security Amendments of 1956, part II concludes with a polemic against the means test. Whether a grant is paid for by a worker’s contributions through the payroll tax (as in Social Security Retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance), or drawn from a government’s general funds (as in the program now known as Supplemental Security Income), tenBroek and Matson categorically reject the idea that agency workers should have anything to say about who receives aid, how much they get, or how they should spend it. The authors explain their reason for opposing the means test:

The dignity and worth of the individual are demeaned. Dignity requires that aid be expected and received as a matter of right—statutory, human, or natural—and not as a matter of administrative discretion, influenced by humanity, charity, approval, or other emotions. Dignity requires that psychological dependency should not become the price of economic aid; that privacy be respected; that adults be free to make their own decisions in respect to spending, living arrangement, and personal matters. Dignity requires that a standard and circumstance of living not conspicuously different from the rest of the community be attainable and that the individual not be marked with other signs of his needy or special status.

Part III, “Opportunity” is about employment, including self-employment (especially as provided for in the Randolph-Sheppard program), rehabilitation, and sheltered workshops. TenBroek and Matson address rehabilitation first, and they make their meaning clear:

Vocational training is the keystone of the rehabilitation process.... Well-organized and carefully planned training, moreover, has a definite therapeutic value in freeing the individual from his initial helplessness and giving him a sense of productivity and achievement.

They continue:

Ultimately, of course, the rehabilitated worker must face the prospect of competition with the able-bodied, since the whole purpose of vocational rehabilitation is to fit the client for economic self-sufficiency into the main stream of society. But it must be recognized that the training needs of the disabled are different from those of the able-bodied.

And, after reviewing existing rehabilitation programs for the blind, they come to this conclusion:

This account of the deficiencies of rehabilitation procedures for the blind strongly supports the need for instructors and counselors, at every stage of the program, who are themselves blind.... It has been estimated that 85 to 90 per cent of all mental stimuli come from sight; and certainly much of normal learning is a process of visual observation.... The peculiar nature of the handicap of blindness, its extreme psychological impact and social isolation, can be fully understood only through the aid of other blind persons. Moreover, experience has amply demonstrated that sighted counselors, however well-meaning, tend generally to misconceive the nature of blindness and to underestimate the abilities of the blind....

Reviewing developments in federal rehabilitation legislation during the 1950s, tenBroek and Matson point out that the agencies and organizations typically come out on one side of the debate, while trade unions and organizations of the disabled stand on the other. TenBroek and Matson preferred legislation that proposed

Some of these issues have since come to pass, but Federationists know that the NFB still has to fight for others.

Turning to the vending stand program, tenBroek and Matson were dismayed by the way the original purposes of the Randolph-Sheppard program could be distorted by the agencies. Rather than encouraging the independence of blind entrepreneurs, state agencies demeaned the blind by claiming, first, that only an exceptional few were capable of running the stands independently and, second, that the general public was not comfortable with independent enterprises run by blind individuals.

Part III concludes with a historical overview of sheltered workshops and their antecedents. Not surprisingly, tenBroek and Matson conclude that unremunerated or underpaid work for its own sake should never be confused with vocational rehabilitation. Alas, the organized blind are still fighting this battle.


Jacobus tenBroek exemplified a rare mixture of traits. On the one hand he excelled as a teacher at the university level and he published academic works for which he gained great renown. On the other hand—and at the same time—he was the organizer of a movement. Within that movement he constantly struggled to remind his constituency of the need for independence in philosophy and action.

In brief, tenBroek was both a scholar and an activist. No publication demonstrates better the way the two fit together than Hope Deferred. TenBroek wrote this book with Floyd Matson just as the civil war within the NFB was building to a crescendo. At the same time, with tenBroek's encouragement, Kenneth Jernigan was asserting his own leadership. By the time Hope Deferred was published, Jernigan was in Iowa, re-imagining what rehabilitation of the blind could be and making a tenBroek-inspired state-agency program a reality. TenBroek and Jernigan differed in many ways, not the least of which was their orientation to national politics. But Jernigan understood the key lessons of tenBroek's scholarship and activism and was thus able to build on the professor's activist legacy when death came far too early for the founding president of the NFB.

Hope Deferred is available in Braille and as a Talking Book from the National Library Service.

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