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Remarks Upon Signing Bill for the Construction of Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers

October 31, 1963

I am delighted to approve this bill. It will make possible the major attack on the problems of mental retardation and mental health.

Last week I approved the bill to extend the programs of maternal and child health to enable us to overcome a major cause of retardation, lack of adequate care before birth and during infancy.

This bill will expand our knowledge, provide research facilities to determine the cause of retardation, establish university related diagnostic treatment clinics and permit the construction of community centers for the care of the retarded. For the first time, parents and children will have available comprehensive facilities to diagnose and either cure or treat mental retardation. For the first time, there will be research centers capable of putting together teams of experts working in many different fields. For the first time, State and Federal Governments and voluntary organizations will be able to coordinate their manpower and facilities in a single effort to cure and treat this condition.

Today, we cannot even identify the cause of retardation in 75 percent of the cases. Under this legislation, research in the life sciences will be encouraged and, in a few years, we can look confidently forward to knowing enough about mental retardation to prevent it in most cases.

I am informed that the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has already taken preliminary steps to implement the program. Dr. Aldrich, Director of the Institute, will shortly call together some 50 distinguished scientists from the United States and other nations to plan the direction which research relating to premature birth should take. Premature birth has been identified as a factor closely connected with many cases of mental retardation, but no one yet knows what factors induce labor. With the help of the best minds of the world, and under the authority of this legislation, we are optimistic about the possibility of finding out the causes of premature birth.

Other parts of the bill are equally significant. Under this legislation, custodial mental institutions will be replaced by therapeutic centers. It should be possible, within a decade of two, to reduce the number of patients in mental institutions by 50 percent or more. The new law provides the tools with which we can accomplish this objective.

But no law providing facilities can be effective so long as there is a persistent and Nationwide shortage of qualified personnel to instruct the handicapped. Title III of the bill helps cure that deficiency. There are today about 5 million handicapped children in need of special education. Two hundred thousand teachers are needed, but there are only about 60,000 available. Under this legislation, steps will be taken to educate more teachers for the handicapped.

I am glad to announce at this time that we are establishing a new division in the United States Office of Education to administer the teaching and research program under the act. This will be called the Division of Handicapped Children and Youth, and will be headed by Dr. Samuel Kirk, who is now Professor of Education and Psychology and Director of the Institute of Research on Exceptional Children at the University of Illinois. He will bring the kind of leadership, experience, and wisdom we need to meet the challenges the many problems present.

The Nation owes a debt of gratitude to all who have made this legislation possible. It was said, in an earlier age, that the mind of a man is a far country which can neither be approached nor explored. But, today, under present conditions of scientific achievment [See APP note], it will be possible for a nation as rich in human and material resources as ours to make the remote reaches of the mind accessible. The mentally ill and the mentally retarded need no longer be alien to our affections or beyond the help of our communities.

I am particularly appreciative to Senator Hill and to Congressman Harris, the chairmen of the committees who handled this legislation, for the leadership that they gave, to the Members of the House and Senate of their committees, to the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate which have long been interested in this problem, to all those who are with us today who worked so hard to make this the most significant effort that the Congress of the United States, of the country--our country-has ever undertaken. I think that in the years to come those who have been engaged in this enterprise can feel the greatest source of pride and satisfaction, and they will recognize that there were not many things that they did during their time in office which had more of a lasting imprint on the well-being and happiness of more people. So, I express all of our thanks to them, and I think it is a good job well done.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. At the close of his remarks he referred to Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, and Representative Oren Harris of Arkansas, chairman of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce.

As enacted, the bill (S. 1576) is Public Law 88-164 (77 Stat. 282).

APP Note: This spelling reflects an error in the original published document. APP policy is to try to reproduce the document as originally published, if possible, including any errors.]

John F. Kennedy, Remarks Upon Signing Bill for the Construction of Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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