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.
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 the history of 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. On April 26, 1991, it was officially renamed the Henry Viscardi School, in his honor.
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.
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. 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.
In 2013, the Center established the Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards to recognize exemplary leaders in the international disability community who carry on Dr. Viscardi’s vision and legacy through their professional accomplishments and advocacy efforts.
The Viscardi Center continues to differentiate itself within the disability services community as a worldwide leader. It launched Project Accessible Oral Health at The Viscardi Center, a global public-private partnership that aims to improve access to oral health care and improve the overall health of the disability community, in 2017. Two years later in 2019, the National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship at The Viscardi Center emerged as a resource for innovators with disabilities interested in turning their business ideas into a reality.
Today, as a hub for leading edge approaches to education and employment, The Viscardi Center eliminates barriers that people with disabilities face at school, work, and in our communities. The Center remains committed to Dr. Viscardi’s original mission – to empower individuals to live fully integrated, active, and independent lives.