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Remarks Upon Receiving the Second Report of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation.

September 24, 1968

Secretary Cohen, Dr. Aldrich, members of the Committee, and my friends:

It means a great deal to me to have you come here and meet with us today to present this report on the progress that you have made on behalf of the mental retardation movement in this country.

Your report is going to be very carefully read and studied, and I can assure you, acted upon.

Two very striking facts concern me today. The first was reported in yesterday's newspapers: Project Head Start, which only began in 1965, has actually already raised the I.Q. of hundreds of thousands of children in this country.

It has made them more intelligent because this program that was designed, really, to serve the poor, and not designed to serve the retarded, has had rather remarkable results.

I don't know of many people in this country, if they had the power today to stop Head Start, who would dare do so.

But it does prove that enough care, and enough effort, and enough love can create enough hope in a situation that many of us in times past might have thought was hopeless. That one fact, I think, tells a great deal about how far we have come in the last few years.

As all of you know, President Kennedy, my predecessor, had a great interest in this field, along with all the members of his family. We owe to them and we owe to each of you, a deep debt of gratitude on behalf of all the citizens of this Nation for your constructive, enlightened approach to this most difficult problem.

The other fact that I want to mention today is this: Three-fourths of this Nation's mentally retarded people live in either urban or rural slums. Poverty creates not only misery--but poverty creates mental handicaps. That shocking fact tells us just how far we have yet to go in this great land that we all love so much.

I am told that today we are able to detect with certainty only about one-quarter of the cases of mental retardation, and that we are able to prevent less than 2 percent of them.

This means that every day thousands of children are falling farther behind in their classes, farther behind in life, farther away from any chance for happiness or fulfillment.

If these children lose in their struggle for education and fulfillment, the whole Nation loses. If they lose, we lose--because there are 6 million retarded citizens in America. They are the largest single handicapped group in the whole Nation.

I am an optimist, though, because I think I know something about what you people stand for. I have tried, as best I could, to see that this Committee had quality. If all of you haven't attended every single meeting, it is not my fault. Because to me--and I am not on the ballot and you can't vote for me-I have already gotten more from you than I expected. And I am grateful for it. You exemplify to me what is best and what is most compassionate about our country.

In this Committee, some of America's most fortunate citizens, most blest citizens, most able citizens, have committed themselves to trying to help the least fortunate, the least able, and those with the least hope.

After all, that is what living is all about. That should give you a satisfaction that is not reflected in a bank statement.

I think you have done an impressive job. I want to congratulate your Chairman. I want to congratulate each member of the Committee. I think millions of citizens in this country have a reason to be grateful to you. I am very proud of you. That is why I agreed to come here today for this little ceremony.

Your report, I observed, is entitled "The Edge of Change." That is a very appropriate title. We hear a lot about change in this country, particularly in these times.

It gives me real pride that in a few years we seem to have identified this problem and we seem to be coming to grips with it. So now, I think, is the time to move from the edge of change toward hope of real fulfillment for these handicapped Americans, these American citizens, these children who can't speak for themselves.

We have various types of committees in this country. Some people think Presidents have too many committees. But from the Democratic National Committee down to the school board committee, if I had the right to pick a committee to go out and work for me, I don't think I could improve on this Committee.

I thank you so much for working for those that, I think, need your help more than I do.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:19 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Wilbur J. Cohen, Chairman of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation, and Dr. Robert A. Aldrich, Vice Chairman of the Committee.

The Committee's report is entitled "MR 68: The Edge of Change, A Report to the President on Mental Retardation Program Trends and Innovations, With Recommendations on Residential Care, Manpower, and Deprivation" (Government Printing Office, 28 pp.).

The Committee was established by Executive Order 11280 of May 11, 1966 (2 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs. p. 650; 31 F.R. 7167; 3 CFR, 1966 Comp., p. 112).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Receiving the Second Report of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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