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Remarks at a Meeting of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.

May 09, 1963

Mr. Gleason, General Maas, Mr. Hall, Mr. Fay, Mr. Macy, Mr. Freeman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express my very great appreciation to all of you who work in this most important and deserving field, the employers, the members of the Federal Government who have concerned themselves with this problem, Mr. Gleason, Mr. Macy, the Armed Forces, the AFL-CIO, Mr. Freeman who has worked very tirelessly in this matter, members of the President's Committee who devoted a good deal of their time, and also to all those across the country.

One of the impressive things that I have seen as I have traveled across the country-I remember going into the McDonnell Aviation Company in St. Louis, Mo., which has been one of our most progressive employers in hiring those who are mentally handicapped and who have been among the most useful employees of the company; others in Long Island; others stretching across this country; employers who have gone to great pains to bring into their establishments disabled men and women who then are able to make a living not because of the support of others, but by their own efforts which have contributed to their rehabilitation, and to organized labor in this country; the AFLCIO, who have worked with the unions, encouraging the unions to bring men and women in to make it easy for them to be hired.

This is the kind of work which comes not from the top down, but from the inside out. We are hiring today at the White House a young man, who is handicapped, to work on the grounds at the White House. And I am hopeful that people all across the country in the next year will make a special effort to bring into their lives in one way or another, by assisting, by hiring, by working with, men and women who are handicapped, either physically handicapped or mentally handicapped. And this is an area in which in recent months and years we have made a particular effort. We are making a particular effort in the National Government this year to bring up to date and really move ahead in the whole treatment of those who are mentally retarded and mentally disabled, as well as our efforts among those who are physically disabled.

As I have said before, I see no reason why this very rich country of ours should have 3 out of 100 of our children mentally retarded, mentally disabled, while Sweden, which is not any more prosperous than we are, but is more concerned, perhaps, than we have been, has only 1 out of 100.

So this effort which we are all making in the Government, in the cities, in the States, in the employers, in the unions, this great cooperative effort to make a part of our community, a part of our country, a part of our lives for those who have been less fortunate, is deserving of the best you have.

I want to congratulate all of you who are doing something about it, not merely talking about it. All the problems that this country has could be solved in a whole variety of ways if all of our citizens would just pick one project and give their time to it, whether it is helping those who are mentally or physically retarded, whether it is helping young boys and girls who are in difficulty with the law, whether it is entertaining foreign students, whether it is holding out a hand to one group or another. This can be done much better by our citizens than by the National Government.

And I want to express my commendation to one group of our society here today who are doing something about it and who deserve the appreciation not of the country, because they deserve that, but I think that most of all they get the satisfaction themselves of recognizing that the obligations of citizenship and the pride in their country make them want to look out beyond their own lives.

So I am delighted to be here today. I congratulate you all. We pay a special tribute to David Hall. I can imagine nothing more worthwhile than what he is doing. I have some personal knowledge of what has happened to people in automobile accidents. If they would have some recognition of how long is the difficulty, the time they saved, they would realize, is very unimportant. So that we are glad to honor him and we admire him. There are a lot of acts of courage which are done in the flash of the moment, but the most commendable and admirable acts of courage are those which go on day in, day out, month in, month out, year in and year out. He has shown it, many of you have shown it, the General has shown it, and I am glad to be among those who live it.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Departmental Auditorium in Washington. In his opening words he referred to John S. Gleason, Jr., Administrator of Veterans Affairs; Maj. Gen. Melvin I. Maas, Chairman, President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped; David Hall, Handicapped American of the Year; Paul B. Fay, Jr., Under Secretary of the Navy; John W. Macy, Jr., Chairman, Civil Service Commission; and Gordon M. Freeman, Vice Chairman, President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at a Meeting of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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