When President Kennedy made his inaugural speech in 1961, there was no mention of initiatives on intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs). Yet, the efforts by his administration and the Kennedy family to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families are one of their most enduring legacies. The Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison bears the indelible fingerprints of those efforts.
The telegram from President John F. Kennedy to University of Wisconsin President Fred Harrington was both eerie and visionary. Eerie because it was delivered Nov. 20, 1963 – just two days before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas – and visionary because it seemed to anticipate the challenges confronting science in its quest to explore the human brain.
During the past three decades, our understanding of human development – from the womb to old age – has grown in astounding ways. We know more about the causes and consequences of developmental disability and mental retardation than we might have imagined 40 years ago when President John F. Kennedy, two days before his assassination, wired his congratulations to Professor Harry Waisman at the UW Medical School.