50 Years Later

October 24 marked the 50 year anniversary of President Kennedy signing the first major piece of legislation for those with intellectual disabilities. A month or so back, I wrote a post on the fourth annual day held in the honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the president’s sister who was one of the chief advocates for the bill. If you recall (https://kathyscapping1.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/a-special-olympics-pioneer/), Shriver was the primary driving force behind the eventual creation of the Special Olympics Inc., in 1968. With that being said, what most people may not remember is the series of landmark events that led to the formation of the Special Olympics organization as a whole.

On October 24, 1963, the 35th president of our country signed a document titled the following: “The Maternal Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment to the Social Security Act”. Little did people know at the time that this would serve as the first true stepping stone to the worldwide presence of the Special Olympics today. As stated earlier, it was the first piece of legislation that directly addressed mental retardation and mental illness. The legislation provided grants of money to various states in order for them to be able to upgrade their programs for those with intellectual disabilities. Just a week later, President Kennedy signed a second bill that provided funds to be used for the construction of facilities that were to serve the purpose of taking care of and ensuring fair treatment of people with intellectual disabilities.

Looking back, it is truly hard to believe how far the Special Olympics organization has come in just a half century’s worth of time. There have been a handful of posts up to this point where I have discussed the fact that the Special Olympics is now present in over 220 countries. Furthermore, the Special Olympics features more than 4.2 million athletes with intellectual disabilities worldwide. Those numbers alone should speak to not only how far it has come since 1963, but also to the long-standing impact of the pieces of legislation that were signed by President Kennedy.


-Joe Fitzhenry


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