Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1967

October 03, 1967

Secretary Gardner, Under Secretary Cohen, Miss Switzer, Members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen:

Eight years ago in Portage, Pennsylvania, a 20-year machinist dived into a swimming hole and struck his head. Thus, he was paralyzed for life.

Even before that accident, he was handicapped; he had been partially deaf since his birth. Now he was not only deaf, but he was sentenced to another kind of life imprisonment. In many ways, that seemed to be a very, very hopeless case.

Today, that "hopeless case" is a very successful draftsman. He makes a good living with a design firm near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He pays his taxes. He is a member of the community--instead of its helpless ward.

All of that is true because he was helped, helped right from the start by a counselor from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Rehabilitation.

The law that I am going to sign today makes such stories as this possible. It brings them into reality. Thousands of them. Half a million exactly in the last 4 years. Since Woodrow Wilson's day it has helped more than 2 million Americans who-in one way or other--would be equally "hopeless cases."

As much as any law on the books, this law reveals what great possibilities every person has--and what, I believe, a great heart we have in America.

Last year, we helped restore 173,000 people to useful lives. Three-fourths of them had been unemployed--20 percent of them were already on welfare.

Today, every one of them are taxpayers. This program reaps five tax dollars for every dollar that we sow. And measured in human happiness, its value is beyond all of our counting.

So this moment is more than just a ritual. Today we express again our purpose in America: fulfillment for the individual. We aim to knock down every barrier that keeps a child or a man from realizing his full potential in our country.

The history of these years, I believe, when it is written, will be the story of how we in America accomplished that goal.

A rather bitter writer once gave this definition of history: "The account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which were brought about by rulers, mostly knaves ...."

Well, I disagree with him on all counts.

History, I am convinced, will remember these years as a great awakening in America.

In these years, we discovered poverty in the midst of plenty--and we did something about it--not as much as we would like-but we did all that we could get a majority to do.

If historians seek a name for this age in the United States, I hope that they will call it the Age of Education.

Our Government guarantees to all of its citizens all the education that he or she can take.

In the past 6 years, the number of young people going to college from poor homes has risen by more than 12 percent.

In 6 years, the number of high school dropouts has dropped--from 25 percent to 18 percent of our young people between 16 and 24.

I regret we have 18 percent. But I would much rather have 18 than 25 that we started with.

If men in the future want to suggest the range of our achievements, I think they could do it in only two sentences:

"The American people in 3 years, multiplied their commitment to health and education 4 times over. They passed more laws and they committed more funds to the education of our children--and to the health of our people--in 3 years than in all the previous history of America put together."

Junior colleges are now being founded in America at the rate of one per week.

By 1965, new Federal programs were helping 500,000 young people go to college and without that help, they might not have had a chance. Next year--I want all of you to get this--we will be helping 1,200,000; so we have doubled the number that we helped go to college--more than doubled it in the last 2 years--500,000 to 1,200,000.

Those to me are not just numbers. They are miracles. They represent human lives which are being changed and human lives which are being enriched.

They mean that a new idea is already at work here in America.

Once, we thought of rehabilitation as something for the physically handicapped. This law is evidence of that. But now we have learned that other handicaps yield to the same treatment. The handicap of ignorance for example. Mental handicaps are another. The handicap of poverty is another.

Rehabilitation, in fact, has become a basic idea in our country. We act on the belief that every man--no matter what his color, no matter what his bank account, no matter what his handicap, no matter what his IQ-has abilities which America needs.

That is a new idea. But it is a great idea. It is like discovering a new country right in our midst--the territory of human promise. That idea promises not more welfare, but more well-being for all--well-being for our people--the people we are selected to serve.

So we come here to the East Room of the White House this afternoon to continue this program. To continue it--and to add much to it that is new:

This law extends rehabilitation service to migrant laborers--the poorest among us, the most needy among us.

It increases Federal support for rehabilitation here in our Nation's Capital.

And finally, it strikes at one of the most baffling and heartbreaking handicaps that we can imagine: the double handicap of deaf-blindness. For years, that problem seemed too difficult for us. Now, by establishing a National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults, we hope to change all of that.

To all the supporters of this law in Congress, to all the Members of the House and Senate who are here this afternoon on behalf of all the Nation, I want to say the Nation owes you a debt of thanks.

I would like to call each of your names. I am sure I would overlook some and make some of you offended. But I must refer to Senator Hill, who is always in the limelight to anything that is good for health and education in this country--to Congressman Perkins, to Congressman Daniels, and to their committee members.

They gave this law dedicated--and bipartisan-support.

In the next few years, this law will turn hope into achievement for thousands of our people.

And it will prove something to us and to history: that in America there is no such thing as a "hopeless case."

Before I conclude--because I couldn't go to the Capitol yesterday--I want to pay my respects, my very great esteem and affection to that grand young man who was 90 yesterday, Carl Hayden.

I have never known a better public servant. I have never known a better human being. And I have never had a better friend. I am so glad he could be here today.

Note: The President spoke at 5:07 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to John W. Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Wilbur J. Cohen, Under Secretary, and Mary E. Switzer, Commissioner of Vocational Rehabilitation. Later he referred to Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, Representative Carl D. Perkins of Kentucky, Representative Dominick V. Daniels of New Jersey, and Senator Carl Hayden of Arizona.

As enacted, the bill (H.R. 12257) is Public Law 90-99 (81 Stat. 250).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1967 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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