What is the League of the Physically Handicapped?

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The League of the Physically Handicapped was a short-lived but powerful organization that was formed by a group of young disabled New Yorkers during the Great Depression. As the federal government, under FDR's administration, was developing programs to revive the economy and create nationwide employment, the League of the Physically Handicapped advocated for the rights of disabled people to gain equal access to employment.

Initially, in 1935, six disabled people initiated a sit-in at the office of the Emergency Relief Bureau in New York City to advocate for employment for disabled people and to protest against the federal government's (under the Work's Progress Association) policy of not hiring disabled people. News spread of the action, particularly among socialist and communist activist circles, and the next day, hundreds of disabled and nondisabled supporters showed up to picket the office. The picket lasted nine days before the police were brought in to shut down the protest.

The collective strength of the League of the Physically Handicapped continued, however, and they continued to protest at other WPA offices, including in Washington DC at the head office of the WPA. Through their tactics of sit-ins and protests, by 1939, the League had succeeded in securing over 5,000 jobs for disabled people throughout the country. The League of the Physically Handicapped disbanded in 1939, but served, in part, as inspiration for the renewed disability rights movement of the 1970s.

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