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County renames street in Viscardi’s honor

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Posted: Thursday, July 5, 2012 12:14 pm

Nassau County on Friday honored Henry Viscardi Jr., a pioneer in education for the disabled, by naming a section of Searingtown Road in Albertson by the school that bears his name.

The section of the road was named Viscardi Way in honor of the man who founded the Henry Viscardi School, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

“This is a great honor for all of us at The Viscardi Center. Henry Viscardi improved the lives of people with disabilities through employment, education and empowerment,” said  John Kemp, president and CEO of the center and the school. “We are glad that county executive Mangano and the county legislature recognize the impact that Henry Viscardi has had not only here, on the street that now bears his name, but worldwide.”

The school currently enrolls more than 180 students with disabilities in grades pre-K through 12.  

“The Viscardi Center is dedicated to creating a world in which people with disabilities are empowered to be active, independent, and self-sufficient participants in our society,”  Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said.

Born with short, twisted legs that wrapped around his abdomen, Viscardi became one of the country’s leading advocates for the rights of people with disabilities.

After his birth in New York City in 1912, Viscardi spent his early years confined to the Hospital for Deformities in Manhattan. He later enrolled in a regular school and went on to study at Fordham University in the Bronx and St. John’s Law School in Queens. 

During World War II, Viscardi volunteered for the Red Cross, which sent him to work at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. His job was to encourage and inspire disabled veterans to re-enter the workforce and lead productive lives. 

In 1952, at Eleanor Roosevelt’s urging, Viscardi left his job at a textiles firm in New York City and started Abilities, Inc. in a vacant garage in Hempstead. It was a manufacturing venture staffed largely by injured military veterans and aimed to demonstrate that people with disabilities could be productive workers. 

Viscardi moved the enterprise to Albertson in the early 1960s and expanded it to include vocational training and job placement. He also created a school devoted to children with severe physical disabilities.

He was an advisor to every U.S. president from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter and was instrumental in the passage of national legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities. He helped found programs based upon the Abilities model throughout the United States and in other countries. 

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