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The White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals Newsletter, Spring 1977

The White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals
the national newsletter
Spring 1977

Symbolically, this design is a visual reinforcement of the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals itself. The interlocking circle of people represents a convocation of delegates with a common interest and goal, joining together in strength and harmony.
Outstretched arms reflect the openness of the Conference, the spreading of ideas among delegates and observers representing all disabilities, parents, professionals and advocates. Finally, the people themselves are portrayed as whole beings, as subtle indication that individuals with disabilities should be “whole” in our society.

[PHOTO] President Carter recently reviewed the progress of plans for the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals with Conference Chairman Dr. Henry Viscardi Jr. (standing), Jack F. Smith, Executive Director, and Margaret Costanza, Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.

White House Conference
President Carter will chart the course of events for the first White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals May 23 at the Sheraton-Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The participation of the President and Mrs. Carter and many Members of Congress will signal this country’s support for the deliberations of a great national parley. This nation’s 35 million mentally or physically handicapped Americans will have, for the first time, a voice in determining their own future.

Eight hundred delegates and more than 1,700 other invited participants will gather for the May 23-27 Conference. Delegates and an equal number of alternates were selected by a system used at State and Territorial Conferences.

The agenda of the National Conference has been forged by individuals with disabilities who have identified the problems that most affect their lives, and developed suggestions for solving them. The focus has been on the complete spectrum of an individual’s life, including health, social, educational, economic and other special concerns.

“The message from handicapped individuals and their families is very clear,” says Dr. Henry Viscardi, Chairman of the Conference. “They want action. They want follow-through. They want commitment in both legislative and financial areas.”

Handicapped Individuals and the Arts will be the theme of special events during the Conference.

A feature of Monday afternoon’s program will be the meetings of Congresspersons with their State delegations. At these meetings, and at the dinner following, Members of Congress will have a chance to learn first-hand the size, strength, and needs of their special constituency. This dialogue is expected to lead to greater understanding and action on the part of the legislative decisions makers.

President Carter will formally open the Conference on Monday night. The opening has two purposes: to charge the delegates with their responsibility for establishing clear directives, and to present the commitment of the Administrative Branch to provide greater opportunities for individuals with handicaps to live independent lives in dignity. Affirming the role of the participants in this dialogue will be Jack F. Smith, Executive Director of the White House Conference, and Dr. Henry Viscardi, its Chairman.

Entertainment, also a part of the opening night program, will be in a cabaret setting. The National Endowment for the Arts will be the sponsor.

The major work of the Conference will be done in eight concurrent workshops and State caucuses to be held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, May 24-26. In these workshops the delegates will deliberate on several thousand recommendations comprising the national agenda, to select those actions that most specifically speak to the changes necessary to equalize opportunities for handicapped Americans. Delegates who wish to speak to minority points of view or present alternate recommendation can do so at open forums on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, May 24 and 25.

[PHOTO] Conference Chairman Henry Viscardi Jr. has a warm greeting for Senator Jacob K. Javits (D-N.Y.), a strong supporter of the aims and purposes of the Conference, at a meeting in Washington.
[PHOTO] Jack F. Smith, Executive Director (seated left) and three Conference staff members meet with Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr. (D-N.J.), Chairman, Committee on Human Resources, to discuss the progress of the Conference. Standing are (left to right) Dennis Wyant, Paul Ackerman and Joe Magnino.

Even conferees as dedicated as those of the White House Conference need relaxation. To provide for these needs, and to enable delegates to socialize and exchange ideas, a series of cabarets will be set up at the Conference hotel each evening.

The closing ceremony of the Conference will be on Thursday afternoon, May 26. The significant engineers of Federal legislation affecting individuals with handicaps will report to the delegates their impressions of the Conference recommendations, and inform them of pending actions.
These committed persons are: Representatives John Brademas (D-Ind.); and Carl D. Perkins (D-Ky.); Senators Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.), Jennings Randolph (D-W. Va.), and Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.).

“Delegates to this Conference will want to know immediately what actions will be recommended to Congress. They will want to follow through with action in their State and local communities. They will need to inform their civic leaders of the wishes of all handicapped individuals in this country,” declares Jack Smith, “and this Conference will give them that knowledge. As the delegates leave on Friday, they will receive a computerized report of the voting on recommendations. Thus each participant in this important National Conference can follow the progress of the recommendations made on behalf of all handicapped citizens.

Delegate Balance
A balanced delegation of mentally or physically disabled consumers, their parents and providers of services will participate in the White House Conference. These delegates were elected at State and Territorial Conferences.

“By balance we also mean that there is abroad representation of disabilities as well as minority or special population categories,” says Jack F. Smith, Executive Director. He pointed out that only 15 percent of the 1400 delegates and alternates named through State Conferences use wheelchairs.

“A common misperception prevails that this will be a wheelchair Conference,” Smith continued. “It’s not surprising. Many individuals using wheelchairs have been vocal in the consumer movement nationwide. And then the wheelchair alone makes individuals highly visible.

“Overall we feel that all disabilities and their degrees of severity will be well represented at the White House Conference. Better than 50 percent of the delegates will disabled persons, and 25 percent will be parents.”

Equitable delegate representation has been assured for all categories of disability and for all handicapped minorities. The minority delegations will exceed their actual percentage of the total population.


Nationwide the interest in attending the White House Conference, May 23-27, in Washington, D.C. far exceeds the hotel’s physical limits.

“We wish we were able to invite everyone who deserves to be here,” stated Jim Gelatt, Conference Coordinator, “But for reasons of safety the hotel has to observe laws related to room capacity.”

Seven hundred delegates and alternates were appointed through State and Territorial Conferences. An additional 100 delegates-at-large were named by the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to insure representation of disability categories and minority populations.

Observers were invited form national organizations serving the disabled, business and labor, Federal and State Service delivery programs and Congress to fill the 900 observer positions.

[PHOTO] Discussing the report from the Kentucky State Conference are (left to right) Jack F. Smith, Executive Director of the Conference; Julian M. Carroll, Governor of Kentucky; Mary Louise Sandman, State Director of Kentucky and William H. Nichol, Jr., Chairman of the Kentucky State Conference.

White House Conference
The mission of the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals is comprised of three goals:
To provide a national assessment of problems and potentials of individuals with mental or physical handicaps;
To generate a national awareness of these problems and potentials:
To make recommendations to the President and Congress which, if implemented, will enable individuals with handicaps to live their lives independently, with dignity, and with full participation in community life to the greatest degree possible.

Accessibility at the Sheraton Park

[PHOTO] Among the modifications under way at the Sheraton Park Hotel, the Conference site, is the installation of grab bars in lavatories.

[PHOTO] Delegates to the White House Conference using wheelchairs will find these public telephones convenient to use.

[PHOTO] A new ramp leads guests onto the terrace of the Sheraton Park Hotel, as the management prepares to welcome delegates, alternates and observers to the May Conference.

Consumer Task Force Heard in Washington, D.C.
As another example of consumer involvement in the White House Conference, 25 consumer leaders with disabilities have reviewed plans for the National Conference.

In addition to examining structural and other modifications at the Conference site, the Sheraton-Park Hotel, consumers provided input to the Conference agenda. They also reviewed summaries of reports from State and Territorial Conferences. Many of the suggestions from the Consumer Task Force were evaluated and accepted.

And They Said…
“There are a lot of hopes riding on this first meeting of its kind since American became a country,” said Fran Lowder of the Congress of Organizations of Physically Handicapped. “If all the delegates, the State Directors and others are busy doing the necessary amount of homework between now and the Conference,” Frank continued, “we can look forward to great things.”

“It’s healthy to fight for things, but I think at this point, because we’re going to be given so much media coverage, it should be a united front,” was the comment of Parthenia Smith, President-elect of the Council for Exceptional Children. She also advised delegates, “When you go back to your States, one of the most important things you can take back is to pull your delegates together, because the only way we’re going to be successful at the Conference is if we can stand together and fight together and not apart. In your delegation, concentrate on working the implementation because you can have a law, but it’s in the interpretation of that law that the work gets done.”

[PHOTO] Time out for a few laughs between work sessions. Judy Heumann of California shares a chuckle with Conference staff member George Conn and Consumer Task Force member Morton Posner of New York.

[PHOTO] Getting acquainted at a reception after the Consumer Task Force meeting are Frank Kells, State Director of Arizona, Sherri Ash and George Conn of the Conference staff, makes the introductions (seated).
[PHOTO] Toasting the success of the Conference are Consumer Task Force member Joe Veisz of Florida and Lee Lawrence, Conference staff Public Information Coordinator.

[PHOTO] Conference priorities are under discussion by Paul Ackerman, Conference staff member, Harold Snider of the Smithsonian Institution and Parthenia Smith of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Harold Snider, Coordinator of Program for the Handicapped, Smithsonian Institution, won agreement with his observation, “In bringing these issues together and in voting on them, it is my view that the most important thing about the White House Conference is that for the first time handicapped Americans are being seen to speak for ourselves; that the government is going to be forced to be responsive… I don’t think we’ll be doing this for nothing.” He added, “I think the way the staff has synthesized the issues really gives us something to work with when we come together in May. It would be wise of us to be tolerant of each other’s issues.”

“I think the whole Conference has to be handled with realism, realism in issues discussed, realism in priorities, realism in accommodations, realism in all sorts of things,” was the advice of Evelyn Dolan, Director of the New Jersey Conference on Handicapped Individuals. She continued, “I’d like to stress implementation of the issues. A great many of us have identified many, many issues … I also hope that we stress individual State implementation. A great many of the recommendations that have come forth can be carried out on the State level and, in general, may not even be practical or possible for the Federal Government to implement.”

“I think the staff has wrestled successfully with some very, very tough elements—like how controlled or how free, how structured or unstructured to set up the format,” commented Frank Kells, Director of the Arizona Conference on Handicapped Individuals. “We’d better realize the facts of life and come together, realizing that we can either win the war or lose it in 19977, at least as far as a few giant steps toward Utopia are concerned.”

Harold Kuehle, Director, Missouri Conference on Handicapped Individuals, put it succinctly: “That’s my idea for the Conference—the bottom line—helping all the handicapped individuals in the United States.”

Ray Cheever, Editor of Accent of Living magazine, summed it up well: “For years we, as handicapped people, have been sitting around telling employers and everybody else that we have ability, and we’ve been asking everybody, ‘Give us a chance.’ O.K. you guys, this is it. I think we’ve got the chance and I think it’s been given to us by Congress. And this to me is a real challenge to all handicapped people to demonstrate that we have the ability … Let’s not get lost in details … Let’s get this once-in-a-lifetime ship of State launched.”

Jack Smith, Executive Director for the White House Conference, addressed the Consumer Task Force: “It’s catching on. The momentum is here. We had enough courage to ask the kind of people who are around this table—the strong individuals you are, and with as much experience—because we trust you as friends of the Conference, we respect your opinions and we’re going to act on them.”