A President Takes A Personal Interest

A President Takes a Personal InterestIn 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the President’s Panel on Mental Retardation to recommend policy changes to better serve people with developmental disabilities.

In a letter to the panel, President Kennedy said, “For over 5 million Americans suffering from some degree of mental retardation, our present system of care might better be called our system of don’t care.”

Based on recommendations by the panel, federal and state agencies began supporting more community-based services and in 1963, President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act. The Act directed federal funds for the construction of facilities for people with developmental disabilities and paved the way for comprehensive community mental health centers. For many, it meant they could move out of a hospital or institution and back into their communities.

Against the backdrop of this national effort, the Ohio legislature implemented several recommendations of Gov. DiSalle’s Joint Committee on Mental Deficiency established in 1959. House Bill 529 redefined persons eligible for services as “mentally deficient or feebleminded,” and removed the labels of idiot and imbecile previously contained in Ohio law. That same year, House Bill 778 broadened the scope of community programming, paved the way for services to persons over the age of 21, and required local boards of education to pay tuition for pupils residing in their districts.

Photo Source: jfklibrary.org

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