"We must promote--to the best of our ability and by all possible and appropriate means--the mental and physical health of all our citizens."-President Kennedy, February 5, 1963

The Kennedy family had a personal connection to the issue of special needs: the president's sister Rosemary, sixteen months his junior, was born with intellectual disabilities. In 1946, Ambassador and Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy established the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation to "seek the prevention of intellectual disabilities by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have intellectual disabilities." Eunice Kennedy Shriver began directing the foundation in 1957 and became a staunch advocate for people with mental retardation and their families.

In the twenty years following the Kennedy administration, Congress passed 116 acts or amendments providing support for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Established in 1966 by President Johnson, the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (formally called the President's Committee on Mental Retardation) still exists today, providing advice to the president and to the secretary of Health and Human Services.

President Kennedy and his family forever changed public attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities. Their influence on related policies and programs can still be seen today.

The Special Olympics

Eunice Shriver continued to be an unwavering advocate for people with intellectual disabilities her entire life. In 1968, she founded the Special Olympics, an organization dedicated to celebrating and accepting people with intellectual disabilities as athletes. Today, more than 2.5 million children and adults in 180 countries participate in the Special Olympics.

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Best Buddies

Inspired by his mother's life-long commitment, Anthony Shriver co-founded Best Buddies, an organization that creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Best Buddies® is a nonprofit organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Best Buddies LogoBest Buddies is a vibrant, international organization that has grown from one original chapter to almost 1,500 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Best Buddies programs engage participants in each of the 50 United States, and in 50 countries around the world. Best Buddies’ seven formal programs – Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies, Jobs and Ambassadors – positively impact nearly 700,000 individuals with and without disabilities worldwide. As a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with IDD secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. Best Buddies is systematically implementing its 2020 Initiative, which will witness the organization’s continued significant growth, both domestically and overseas.

Very Special Arts

VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, was founded in 1974 by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increase access to the arts for all. With 52 international affiliates and a network of nationwide affiliates, VSA is providing arts and education programming for youth and adults with disabilities around the world.

Each year, 7 million people of all ages and abilities participate in VSA programs, in every aspect of the arts – from visual arts, performing arts, to the literary arts.

JFK signs Maternal and Child Health Amendments

President Kennedy hands pen to his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, after signing the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments Bill on 24 October 1963. ST-476-4-63 (crop).

President Kennedy hands signing pen to Eunice Kennedy Shriver after signing the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments of 1963.