Although parents were aware of the needs of their families and their children with disabilities, legislators were not well informed about the conditions of public institutions and the overall quality of life for persons who were mentally retarded. Changes began with the efforts of one parent, Mr. Arthur Trudeau. In 1954, Mr. Trudeau invited his friend and former schoolmate, U. S. Representative John Fogarty, to the Christmas party of the Rhode Island Association for Retarded Children.
Representative Fogarty had become one of the nation's leading health experts in Congress, but knew little about the conditions of persons with disabilities. At this party, parents approached Representative Fogarty and gave him accounts of the lack of services, denial of services, isolation, and segregation. Representative Fogarty listened and promised to help. As he opened the annual subcommittee hearings in February 1955, Chairman Fogarty asked his colleagues what they were doing and what they thought might be done on behalf of the millions of children in our country with mental retardation.
In subsequent hearings, Chairman Fogarty raised these same questions before Dr. Leonard Scheele, the Surgeon General, Dr. Pearce Bailey, Director of the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness, Dr. Martha Eliot, Chief of the United States Children's Bureau, and Dr. Robert Felix, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
The testimony of these individuals during the Fogarty hearings indicated that very little was being done in the field of mental retardation. As a result of these hearings, however, Representative Fogarty was determined to see that federal agencies made up for the decades of neglect of people with mental retardation and their families.