Presidential Libraries

Americans for Disabilities Act

"A national plan to combat mental retardation" brochure cover

When John F. Kennedy began his administration, mental retardation was a neglected issue. Few scientists were researching its causes, and even fewer doctors and educators were trained to support people with intellectual disabilities and their families. The Kennedy family had a personal connection to the issue; President Kennedy's sister Rosemary, sixteen months his junior, was born with intellectual disabilities.

At the urging of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Kennedy made mental retardation a priority for his administration. He established the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Still in existence today, the institute was charged with conducting and supporting research on mental retardation as well as all aspects of maternal and child health and human development.