Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 17: Vocations for the Disabled and for Special Conditions

The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 17: Vocations for the Disabled and for Special Conditions

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 02, 2011

For background and links to chapters in this series, see here



If we should visit an important city in Italy or in Mexico we should find numerous men, women, and children with physical handicaps or deformities who get their living by begging. The sympathy of the public is worked on by magnifying the defects. In countries where this sort of thing is permitted a large number of people are pauperized, since it is easier for them to beg than to earn an honest living.

Authorities in social work have discovered that miscellaneous charity, unless properly directed, is likely to do much more harm than good, and a deplorable situation is likely to develop in any community where every person who has lost a finger or an eye gets the idea that the public should support him. There are very few persons so badly crippled that they are positively unable to earn at least part of the means necessary to support them. As a result of the world war a great deal has been learned by the government regarding possible vocations for disabled men. The United States government has assumed the responsibility of fitting for some vocation every man who, as a result of the war, was rendered unfit to follow his former vocation.

Desirability of Independence

Every man who is really a man wants to feel independent of the charity of friends, relatives, the church, or the government. There is something psychologically debasing about the attitude of mind of the beggar. The “gi’me, gi’me,” attitude has nothing in it that should be attractive to anyone. True charity consists in helping the unfortunate or disabled person to prepare for some occupation wherein the particular handicap will be minimized.

Overcoming Effects of Disability

Every case of disability offers a special vocational problem. Take for example the loss of a leg. This would not be so serious for a bookkeeper with good training and long experience at his job, as it would for a person of the motor type without education who had spent all of his life in vigorous outdoor work. Thus it is impossible to say that all one-legged men should seek the same occupation.

The important thing to be kept in mind is that no ordinary disability need interfere with a person earning his own way. There are occupations that fit into almost any kind of capability. I now have before me a letter from a lawyer who has practically no use of his legs, yet he is unusually successful in the practice of his profession.

Many are familiar with the story of Cory Hanks a student of the Brigham Young University, who, during a vacation was working in a mine and was the victim of an explosion in which both of his hands were blown off and he was completely blinded. His case seemed almost hopeless, yet by perseverance he has been able to continue his studies and has made a good living for himself and family. He has, of course, had his periods of discouragement, but through it all he has preserved a wonderful optimism. If he could succeed with his handicap, almost anyone ought to be able to get along somehow.

History is full of wonderful achievements of men and women who could have used their physical handicaps as good reasons for begging, “sponging” on friends and relatives, or for an excuse to enter an almshouse. Senator Gore of Oklahoma, who was blind, was one of the most successful and influential senators in the upper house of the U.S. Congress. Helen Keller, both blind and deaf and dumb almost from birth has charmed audiences all over our country with her eloquence. Steinmetz, the electrical wizard, was a hunchback. The great business statistician, Babcock, gained his fame after he had been condemned as a hopeless tuberculosis invalid. The best poetry written by Milton came after he was blind, and many famous writers such as Stevenson and Swift took up this line of work because their physical defects prevented them from entering occupations requiring greater muscular effort.

In 1920 there were about 75,000 totally blind persons in the United States. Nearly half of the young men who became blind between the ages of 5 and 20 years were ambitious enough to try to earn at least part of their living, whereas the rest of those who became blind between these ages were making no effort to earn anything. While the majority of the blind of the past have entered rather uneconomical pursuits such as broom making, basket making, etc., more and more of them are entering special school classes for the blind and mastering such subjects as school teaching, musical occupations, law, authorship, etc. Education is a great aid to the blind who wish to make their own living. There are special blind schools in about 25 of the larger cities in our country. Nearly double this number of schools for the deaf are known.

In the army many men suffered from shell shock and from injuries of varying seriousness. About 1257,000 of the soldiers from the United States were crippled during the war. Very few of these men are likely to become beggars or inmates of charitable institutions, even though their support from government funds should be discontinued, because the government has attempted to give each disabled soldier training which fits him to enter some productive occupation. After they have been properly trained, cripples can, almost as well as normal persons, fill many trades, such as clock and watchmaking, jewelry working, printing, radio operating, wood working, toy making, etc. Trade schools for cripples are found in1 5 or 20 large cities of the United States. For shellshock victims and others who cannot stand work which requires mental strain, as some of the above trades do, disabled persons can usually find productive use for their energies in some of the farm occupations, such as chicken raising, gardening, fruit growing, and other specialties which demand little other than light physical exertion.

The Spirit of Mutual Improvement

The spirit of the Mutual Improvement Association is the spirit of mutual helpfulness. This means that its members should always be ready to extend the hand of fellowship to those who have experienced misfortune. Knowing that practically everyone, no matter how great their misfortune, can find some productive work out of the hundreds of different occupations, and also knowing that persons engaged in useful occupations are happier and more contented with life, it is the duty of every young man to do his utmost to see that the defective secure the schooling and other training that will best fit them for a useful career. Direct charity often does more harm than good when it is given to the disabled for their current needs, but help which would enable an individual to find his place in the great industrial machine of the world is a service well worthy of the efforts of the Mutual Improvement Association.


1. Why is begging degrading?
2. In what countries of the world are beggars most numerous?
3. Why should each individual strive to be economically independent?
4. Give some examples of people you have known who have succeeded in spite of physical handicaps.
5. Give some occupations in which the following might be successful: The blind; the deaf; those who have lost their hands; those who have lost their legs; those who have lost their voice; the person with shellshock.
6. How may M.I.A. workers be helpful to the disabled?



  1. Are we supposed to answer “Italy and Mexico” to question number 2??

    Comment by Mark B. — August 2, 2011 @ 7:52 am

  2. They didn’t give me an answer key, Mark.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2011 @ 8:02 am

  3. I’m going to have to delete the rant that this post has provoked, and instead I’ll just say: thank goodness some of the discourse and practice surrounding handicap and disability changed in the Progressive Era, and has changed even more in recent times, and thank goodness the church is trying to train its leaders and members to have a greater understanding of disability, but we still have a long way to go in the church and especially in our society before we are ministering to the poor and needy in the way we should.

    Comment by Researcher — August 2, 2011 @ 9:38 am

  4. I’d welcome your rant if it’s still bubbling, Researcher. While I appreciate the lesson’s recognition that a disability doesn’t necessarily render a person absolutely helpless and hopeless and incapable of contributing to this world, every reader could probably find a different reason for objecting to some part of it.

    Here’s mine, mildly stated: Cory Hanks and Helen Keller were both, essentially, motivational speakers. They told their personal stories of not shriveling up in isolation, but of learning to face the world. “I faced the world by learning to tell my story about facing the world by telling my story about facing the world by telling my story.” This is not a career option for very many people — the world can absorb only a few such motivational speakers at a time before their story becomes routine and less motivational. These two extraordinary people are not role models for economic independence.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 2, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  5. If I were to have guessed, I would have thought that this was written later, but it does have elements of Grant’s self sufficiency incorporated in it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 2, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  6. Oh, Ardis, I don’t know that you want to hear my ramblings. As any long-time reader of Keepa knows, I am the mother of a medically disabled child. He is more or less normal except for his single ventricle (Fontan) circulation and is doing exceptionally well for his condition. He is having a full and active life, and we hope that will be the case for many years to come, but there are so many unknowns, and we live in a world of medical visits and medical terminology and studies and online heart groups and regularly need to pray and express support and concern for parents with a recently-diagnosed child and for those with children going in for surgery and those who lost a child to this condition, and I live in the world of discussions about Social Security Disability and Medicaid and Loophole State Secondary Insurance Programs and organ donation and transplantation and concern about the function of other organs besides the heart, and complications of the condition and surgeries as well as the possibility of complications and concern about private insurance and preexisting conditions and funding for special education programs and Medicaid.

    But said child just walked from one room to the next singing, “My life is a gift, my life has a plan…”

    So let me get back to you another time on what I thought about this post.

    Comment by Researcher — August 2, 2011 @ 11:17 am

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