U.S. Chamber of Commerce
2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations, provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower people with disabilities. Its programs and services include Pre-K through High School education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and businesses. View an overview video about The Viscardi Center.
It was founded in 1952 by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. who himself wore prosthetic legs, served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, and became one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities. View a brief history about Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr.
The original incarnation of The Viscardi Center was Abilities, Inc., which operated out of a garage in West Hempstead and demonstrated that disabled veterans from World War II and the Korean War had the skills and abilities to be successful, productive employees. It provided assembly and factory work for several industry giants such as Grumman, General Electric, IBM and the Department of Defense and was the first U.S. business to be staffed primarily by people with disabilities.
Services were expanded in the early 1960s to include vocational training and job placement for all people with disabilities when Dr. Viscardi moved the workshop to a larger facility in Albertson, where The Viscardi Center continues to operate today. The extra space also allowed the pursuit of another dream. In 1962, Dr. Viscardi established an accredited, independent school giving children with severe physical disabilities the opportunity for the highest quality education in a more traditional setting - one that had not previously been available to them. See the impact Henry Viscardi School is having on its students and their families.
Later, Dr. Viscardi’s tireless efforts went on to inspire legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 that protects the rights of children and adults with disabilities.
When Henry Viscardi retired as the Center’s President in 1981, his successor, Dr. Edwin W. Martin, introduced many new ideas to help people with disabilities achieve independence. Among the innovations the Center experienced in the 1980s was the introduction of an Adult Education program which integrated physically challenged adults with non-disabled adults. This program was the first of its kind in the United States.
Edmund L. Cortez, succeeded Dr. Martin as President upon his retirement in September 1994. Throughout the 1990s, the Center continued to expand and grow. In 1996, the Nathaniel H. Kornreich Technology Center, which showcases state-of-the-art assistive technology while providing information demonstrations, technology evaluations, and training on assistive technology and its impact on people with disabilities, was founded. The Smeal Learning Center opened in 1997 as a unique training facility that offered technology and multi-media resources including video and audio production and captioning, along with teleconferencing and accessible training space. Additionally in 1997, the Center’s National Business & Disability Council took a leading role nationally as a resource for the successful integration of persons with disabilities into the workforce and consumer marketplace.
On February 4, 2011, the leadership at The Viscardi Center came full circle with the appointment of John D. Kemp as President and CEO. Kemp is himself disabled and, beyond his considerable skills, training and talents, brings personal experience and insight to advancing integration of individuals with disabilities. Having personally met Dr. Viscardi at age nine, Kemp speaks of the profound affect this meeting had on him and his father. Dr. Viscardi was living proof, a powerful force that touched not only his life, but literally millions of people with disabilities around the world, demonstrating that they could live life to its fullest, just like everyone else.
For those associated with and employed at The Viscardi Center, 2012 was a year of celebration as it commemorated three distinct milestones: the 60th anniversary of the founding of the overall organization; 50 years of educating children with disabilities through the Henry Viscardi School; and Dr. Viscardi was remembered on what would have been his 100th birthday.
The Viscardi Center continues to differentiate itself within the disability services community as a global leader. It is a hub for leading edge approaches to education and employment and pro-active efforts that aim to shape and influence policy changes that will benefit the people it serves and carries out Dr. Viscardi’s original mission - to empower individuals to live fully integrated, active and independent lives.