In contemporary America, identifying as a person with a disability is one of the many ways in which people acknowledge, even celebrate, who they are. Yet several decades ago, few persons with disabilities saw their condition as an identity to be embraced, let alone to serve as the basis for affinity and collective mobilization. The transformation of disability from unmitigated tragedy to a collective and politicized identity emerged in national politics, not in the 1960s or 1970s, as is commonly thought, but in the 1940s. During those years, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) set out to galvanize the nation's blind men and women, most of them poor and unemployed, to demand the economic security and opportunity enjoyed by sighted Americans. This aspiration for equal citizenship led the NFB into protracted contests with the Social Security Administration (SSA) over aid to the poor and sharpened the organization's resolve to represent the nation's civilian blind. Long before disability rights activists declared “nothing about us, without us,” the NFB insisted that only the blind, not sighted social workers or experts in blindness, were entitled to speak on behalf of the blind. Pioneering an organizing strategy and a critique of American liberalism later embraced by activists of the Left, the NFB rose to become one of the most effective civil rights and antipoverty organizations of its time. Today, however, its story has been largely forgotten.

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Copyright © 2019 Cambridge University Press.

DOI: 10.1017/S0898588X18000172

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Erkulwater, Jennifer L. “Constructive Welfare: The Social Security Act, the Blind, and the Origins of Political Identity among People with Disabilities, 1935-1950.” Studies in American Political Development 33, no. 1 (April 2019): 110–38. doi:10.1017/S0898588X18000172.