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"There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the
world, and that is an idea whose time has come

The Reawakening 1950 -1980


During the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was a reawakening of hope and possibilities for persons with disabilities. Frustrated and angry over poor living conditions and the lack of community services, parents began to organize and demand services for their sons and daughters. The efforts of a few groups of parents, scattered across the United States, led to a strong, national movement of parents who declared "The Retarded Can Be Helped."

During the 1960s and 1970s, the parents' movement worked on improving conditions in state institutions; creating community services, educational and employment opportunities; initiating legislation; and challenging the conventional wisdom that person's with disabilities could not be helped. After years of treating people with mental retardation and other disabilities with guilt and shame, people began to speak about their family members with disabilities.

President John F. Kennedy, whose sister Rosemary had mental retardation, launched the President's Panel on Mental Retardation and developed a "plan to combat mental retardation." Parent organizations filed lawsuits to force states to recognize the civil and legal rights of their children. Laws were passed to enforce these rights, services were established and delivery systems were required to provide appropriate services to children and adults with disabilities. Actions were begun to close public institutions and assure that people with disabilities could live in and be a part of the natural community.

The unified efforts of parents resulted in a significant shift in the methods and approaches of providing services to people with disabilities. The stigma of having a child with disabilities was easing. The contributions of parents were greater during this 30 to 40 year period than at any other time in our country's history.

Video: ARC parents organizing in the 1950s
President John F. Kennedy,
launches the President's Panel