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Transcript of Fact Sheet Presidents Committee on Mental Retardation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                           March 28, 1974

Office of the White House Press Secretary



The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation

President Nixon today signed an Executive Order continuing, with expanded membership and responsibilities, the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation.

The Committee is composed of 21 citizens appointed by the President for three-year terms, chaired by the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Added as ex-officio members by today’s Order are the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Attorney General, and the Director of Action. Continuing in that capacity as provided in the 1966 order establishing the Committee are the Secretary of Labor and the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.

The new Order outlines three goals not contained in the original directive:

            --Reducing the occurrence of mental retardation by one-half before the end of the century.

            --Returning to the community one-third of the persons now in public institutions.

            --The need to assure the retarded full status as citizens under the law.

Another additional feature provides that “Federal departments and agencies requested to do so by the Committee shall designate liaison officers with the Committee” who shall, on request, “provide it with information on Department and agency programs which contribute to or could contribute to achievement of the President’s goals in the field of mental retardation.”

The changes reflect progress in the field of mental retardation during the seven years since the original Executive Order. Reducing the occurrence of mental retardation by one-half during this century, for example, has become a brighter hope due to such developments as the spread of genetic counseling and advances in the technique of fetal diagnosis, the development of a rubella vaccine, successful research with intellectual stimulation of very young children, etc.

The movement toward community living rather than institutionalization has accelerated, creating a need to explore various housing alternatives with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As part of the same drive toward normalization of life for the retarded, new awareness is being shown for their legal rights. The Department of Justice has participated in a landmark case on the question or right to habilitative treatment for persons confined to institutions, and the appointment of the Attorney General to the Committee will strengthen cooperative efforts to advance the legal rights of the retarded.

The inclusion of the Director of Action recognizes the important role of volunteers, such as “foster grandparents,” in being friends and advocates of retarded children and adults.

The President’s Committee plans to confer with other Federal departments and agencies on possible cooperation in achieving the President’s goals in mental retardation.

Committee Membership and Purpose

The Committee is comprised of 21 citizens appointed by the President for three-year terms, with the HEW Secretary as Chairman, Ex-officio members are the Secretary of Labor, the Director of CEO, and added by Executive Order of March 28, 1974, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and the Director of Action. Citizen members include geneticists, educators, lawyers, and persons active in volunteer organizations. Some are parents of retarded children.

The Committee’s functions are threefold: (1) to advise the President on the adequacy of the national effort to combat mental retardation, (2) to coordinate activities of Federal, state and local, and private organizations, and (3) to inform the public and enlist their support.

The Committee originally was established May 11, 1966, by Executive Order 11280.

Key Background Facts and Issues in the Mental Retardation Field

Mental retardation is a condition resulting from an organic or developmental defect, which manifests itself in below-average intellectual functioning and difficulty in learning social behavior.

Approximately 6.5 million people (3% of the population) are mentally retarded.

Of these, 89% are mildly retarded, and can learn to work in competitive employment and live independent lives. Another 6% are moderately retarded, and can be trained to work and live in a partially sheltered environment. Only 5% are severely or profoundly handicapped.

National Goals Set by the President in 1971

  1. to reduce the occurrence of mental retardation by 50% before the end of the century, and


  1. to return to the community one-third of the more than 200,000 retarded now in public institutions.

Highlights of Existing Programs

While it is too early to measure numerical results, a review of Federal programs indicates that much is being done to normalize life for those now retarded and to reduce the future occurrence of retardation.

-- Income maintenance, health, education, and service programs for the retarded in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare alone have increased from $0.5 billion in fiscal 1969 to $1.3 billion in 1973. Entirely new types of services have developed, such as intermediate care facilities, which contribute to this Administration’s objective of deinstitutionalization. Standards to make such facilities satisfactory alternatives to institutions were promulgated by HEW.

-- Social security benefits for the disabled last year covered an extimated 209,000 retarded adults, with benefits up to 68.5% since 1968. And the Supplementary Security Income provisions which took effect January 1 will provide increased benefits and cover greater numbers of retarded children and adults. Some 495,000 retarded children and adults receive social services under the Social Security Act.

-- Significant progress is being made in closing the gap in numbers of teachers for the retarded. Federal programs have assisted the states in training an estimated 35,000 special education teachers in the last five years. Of an estimated $120 million provided to assist state and local education programs for handicapped children, a major portion supports deinstitutionalization and community based care of mentally retarded children. The establishment of the National Institute of Education will contribute to our basic knowledge of how children learn.

-- At the same time, public understanding and legal acceptance have been promoted for protection of children against unfair labeling and unduly restrictive educational placement. Two conferences sponsored by the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation, and the resulting influential publications. “Six-Hour Retarded Child” and “A Very Special Child,” have contributed importantly to this end.

-- The vocational rehabilitation program is making it possible for increasing numbers of retarded persons to enter the world of work. More than 36,000 such persons were rehabilitated in fiscal 1972, compared to 22,000 in 1968. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 recently signed by the President gives special attention to the needs of the severely handicapped, and calls for the establishment of an Information Center that will make knowledge of facilities and services more widely available.

-- The Developmental Disabilities Act of 1970 is supporting more coordinated services to a larger number of persons with mental retardation or related disabilities. Whereas 44,000 persons were served in fiscal 1972, the first year of full-scale operations, an estimated 64,000 are being served this year.

-- Several steps are contributing toward the President’s goal of reducing the occurrence of mental retardation by one-half before the end of the century. Leaders in the field of genetic counseling were brought together by the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation to consider ways to increase further the availability and utilization of genetic services, which have been spreading widely in the last few years. The same Committee convened a major national conference on screening and assessment of young children, which could detect developmental disabilities while it is still possible to prevent their having full impact. A conference covering the next stage -- early intervention to reduce the effect of disabilities -- has been scheduled by the President’s Committee for May.

-- Preventive services under way include the greatly expanded Lead Poisoning Control program which screened more than 65,000 children in the first half of fiscal 1973, and detected and treated more than 1,300 children in danger of retardation or death. Federal commitment this fiscal year has more than doubled over the previous year.

-- Special mental retardation community clinics supported by the Maternal and Child Health Services of HEW served over 75,000 children and their families last fiscal year, compared with 39,000 in 1969. MCHS also contributes to prevention of retardation by providing rubella vaccinations for millions of children, family planning for hundreds of thousands of women, and hospital care for thousands of premature infants.

-- Enrollment of retarded children in Head Start programs, which may compensate for their developmental lag, increased from about 5,900 in 1969 to 28,000 in 1973. Even greater increases may be anticipated under new requirement that 10% of all Head Start children must be handicapped.