"We as a nation have long neglected the mentally ill
and the mentally retarded. This neglect must end…"
THE QUIET REVOLUTION
The 1960s was a time of great change and societal upheaval in the United States. In November of 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected our 35th president, following two terms served by Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Civil Rights movement was underway. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that "children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." President Lyndon B. Johnson aspired for a Great Society and began the War on Poverty.
In 1962, a report of the President's Panel on Mental Retardation concluded that the quality of services in state institutions should be upgraded. Local communities were encouraged to work with federal and state agencies to provide a comprehensive, community-centered continuum of services. In 1963, federal funds were authorized for the construction of community facilities for people with mental retardation.
President's Panel on Mental Retardation
President Kennedy appointed a 26 member panel on October 11, 1961. The panel, chaired by Dr. Leonard Mayo, consisted of outstanding physicians, scientists, educators, lawyers, psychologists, and social scientists. With the exception of Dr. Elizabeth Boggs, who was closely connected with the parents movement, Panel members may not have had direct experience with mental retardation as a social issue but each member was influential in his or her respective field. Six task forces were created and charged with conducting an "intensive search for solutions" to the problems experienced by people with mental retardation.
The Panels 1962 report contained 112 recommendations under the headings of research, preventive health measures, strengthened educational programs, more comprehensive and improved clinical and social services, improved methods and facilities for care, a new legal and social concept of mental retardation, increased educational opportunities to learn about mental retardation, and public education and information programs.
At this time, the medical profession was considered the final authority on mental retardation and other disabilities. Consequently, the Panel included several medical authorities and emphasized prevention and treatment. Their goal was to "combat" mental retardation, "[exploring] the possibilities and pathways to prevent and cure mental retardation."
The Panels report prompted the development of new legislation. Public Law 88-164 authorized funding for developmental research centers in university affiliated facilities and community facilities for people with mental retardation. Amendments to the Social Security Act (Public Law 88-156) increased services for maternal and child health, and funded studies in each state (first reform report) on the status of services for people with mental retardation. The term of the Presidents Panel on Mental Retardation expired with the Kennedy Administration.
Prior to his assassination on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy promoted many new programs in the areas of disability, civil rights, and education. The 1962 report of the Panel on Mental Retardation heralded the beginning of federal involvement and fiscal aid to states. President Kennedys successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, assured passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These Acts represented landmark actions by Congress and were of tremendous importance to persons with disabilities.