Idleness and disability
From The politics of Helen Keller: Socialism and disability by Keith Rosenthal:
For instance, in a groundbreaking article, “The Unemployed,” written in 1911 for a magazine for the blind Keller argued,
We have been accustomed to regard the unemployed deaf and blind as victims of their infirmities. That is to say, we have supposed that if their sight and hearing were miraculously restored, they would find work. But I wish to suggest to the readers of this article that the unemployment of the blind is only part of a greater problem.
Mass unemployment, Keller argued, is due not to “physical defects or lack of ability,” but rather to the fact that capitalist production requires “a large margin of idle men.” The capitalist class use the pressure of unemployment to force workers to compete with one another, and in that process, “the weaker workmen are thrust aside.” Thus, she argued, blindness may be a contributing factor to a person’s unemployment, but not the primary cause. Linking the struggle of blind people for the right to work with the struggle of all unemployed people for jobs, she wrote, “We know that the blind are not debarred from usefulness solely by their infirmity. Their idleness is caused by conditions which press heavily upon all working people.” She concluded that “it is not physical blindness, but social blindness which cheats our hands of their right to toil.”
Sadly, the fundamental dream that Helen Keller maintained throughout most of her life ultimately eluded the grasp of her generation. In the years since her death, that dream—the dream of a socialist world, free of oppression, exploitation, and war—has likewise been deferred for subsequent generations. And yet, that dream has not died, and will not die as long as there are people in the world who remain animated by the memories and legacies of Helen Keller and all of our other fighting ancestors. It is in such a spirit that this article ends at the beginning—with an excerpt from the very first public lecture given by Helen Keller, in February 1913.
I am going to try to make you feel that no one of us can do anything alone, that we are bound together. I do not like this world as it is. I am trying to make it a little more as I would like to have it.
It was the hands of others that made me. Without my teacher I should be nothing. Without you I should be nothing. We live by and for each other. We are all blind and deaf until our eyes are open to our fellow men. If we had penetrating vision we would not endure what we see in the world today.
The lands, the life, and the machinery belong to the few. All the work they do gains for the workers a mere livelihood. It is the labor of the poor and ignorant that makes others refined and comfortable. It is strange that we do not see it and that when we do we accept the conditions.
But I am no pessimist. The pessimist says that man was born in darkness and for death. I believe that man was intended for the light and shall not die. It is a good world and it will be much better when you help me to make it more as I want it.