“Handicapped workers aren’t necessarily misfits; in fact, they do most jobs better than the average in the three shipyards.” — The Bos’n’s Whistle, Oregon Shipbuilding Company, April 22, 1943.
November is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The pull quote above was for an article about disabled workers in the World War II Kaiser shipyards, and shows how even though the language has changed over the past 73 years, the sentiment — that everyone, regardless of ability, could contribute to the Home Front production — was consistent with the hiring practices in the seven wartime Kaiser shipyards.
As World War II waned, President Truman announced that the first week in October would be "National Employ the Handicapped Week" (also called "Employ the Physically Handicapped Week"), and a San Francisco Bay Area conference was set for October 10, 1945, which included representatives of industry, the AFL, CIO, and various governmental agencies. Jack Wagner, an AFL representative, declared: "We include in our definition of full employment the disabled war veteran's and the handicapped civilian worker's right to gainful employment.”
More from that Bos’n’s Whistle article:
Before the war, most business and industry shied away from hiring the "crippled" man. Although the handicap often had nothing to do with the job, it just didn't seem like the employer was getting his full money's worth in hiring a man with a missing arm or leg. Then along came the war with its terrific demand for manpower. The armed forces had the same ideas as business men. They, too, wanted physically perfect specimens. The only difference was that they wanted 10,000,000 of them and they had the Selective Service Act to insure first call and prior rights. Industry must get along on what's left.
Then came the great discovery. Under the mass production system, it was found that many so-called handicapped workers could find a place just as easily as the physically fit. Not only were there jobs they could do just as well as the "fit" man, but amazingly enough, they sometimes actually did much better. The secret of all production is to make the best use of the talents that ANY man has.
Eleven workers were profiled, highlighting each one’s disability, the cause of the disability, and the job that each worker now held in the Kaiser shipyards. Here are two of them:
Warner H. Van Hoose, O.S.C. shipwright, lost a leg at the age of 7, but it didn't even slow him down. He became a carpenter and developed a hobby of hunting and fishing. Now he jacks in bilge plates, and with the aid of one crutch travels easily up and down scaffolds. He doesn't wear his artificial leg to work, "It just gets in my way," he says. "I save it for dances or less strenuous activities."
T.R. Wright formerly worked for a lumber company. One day a snag fell on him crushing his shoulder and ribs. It took seven operations, including the grafting of bone from a leg to his shoulder and three years in a hospital, to get him back together again. He still suffers, however, from paralysis of his right arm, but manages to get along nicely as a welder at Swan Island.
A similar article from the Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore'n'Aft, June 18, 1943, was titled “They didn’t know when they were licked”:
The men whose pictures you see on these pages are but a few of the hundreds who are building ships in Richmond. There are a million more like them, eager and able to help win the war. Before Pearl Harbor little attention was paid them. They had two handicaps: one physical on their part, the other psychological on the part of employers. Too often they were not given an opportunity to prove their ability.
As the armed forces and increased war needs drained the manpower market, other sources were tapped. Among them were the physically handicapped. Now the rest of America is learning what that important but forgotten million always knew-they can do almost any job as well or better than the normal man.
The article also profiled several workers, including an African American burner:
The Negro race has responded magnificently to the demands of the war, both on the battle fields and on the home front. Allen Moreland is a burner in Yard Three, has been there for nearly a year. An artificial leg has been no insurmountable handicap for him. He takes his jobs in turn, asks for no odds from anyone. His work has won the respect of his fellow workmen.
Making sure that disabled workers had a job that fit required extra effort. In May 1944, the 627-page tome Physical Demands and Capacities Analysis was published as a joint project of the Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and the Occupational Analysis and Manning Tables division of Region XII War Manpower Commission. One of the primary goals of the Analysis was to make sure that individuals were assigned to jobs that they could perform without risk to their health. The report detailed over 600 distinct job titles in the shipyards.
The shipyards also hired medical professionals to assist in placement efforts. One was Colonel B. Norris, MD, who had retired from the Army Medical Corps and was in charge of Oregon Shipbuilding’s care for disabled war veteran employees. “Dr. Norris will work closely with the personnel department in placement of handicapped or convalescent veterans in jobs particularly suited to their individual requirements.”
An article in Fore ‘n’ Aft from July 20, 1945, titled “According to a man’s abilities…” described employment opportunities for these disabled workers as the war was winding down.
Because the Permanente Hospitals in Richmond and Oakland instituted vocational rehabilitation services with the cooperation of the State and Federal Bureaus, several former Richmond shipyard workers, who were injured or who suffered serious diseases, have been trained or are being trained in work which they can perform.
The case of Ed Andreas is a typical example. Ed was a painter on the ways in Yard One. He broke both feet, his ankle and pelvis bone when he fell from the scaffolding to the ground forty feet below. Ed was unable to return to his former job and his case was referred to George Sloan, Richmond representative for the State Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. After an interview to determine his eligibility, Ed was sent to the San Francisco office, where he was given aptitude tests. One of the many counselors in this office discussed employment objectives with him, and today Ed is learning the trade of watch repairing.
… The key to all rehabilitation work is recognition of one cardinal point. Very few jobs require all human faculties. Therefore it is a problem of fitting the abilities of the individual to the requirements of a job. It is a problem of placing a man according to his abilities — not rejecting him because of his disabilities.
Employment without discrimination — The Kaiser way, since 1942.