JFK took a big step, but many strides left to be made for those with disabilities

I read with interest Eileen McNamara’s Oct. 23 op-ed, “JFK’s other civil rights legacy,” regarding the passage of legislation to try to change the inequities faced by people with disabilities and their families. Since that legislation was signed, in October 1963, much progress has been made. However, let us not pretend that the challenges faced by people with disabilities have been met in full measure, by any standard.

In particular, those with intellectual challenges still are often left behind, despite the efforts of many people, including educators and administrators. As parents of a 24-year-old son who is autistic and has limited verbal abilities, we know firsthand the difficulties of ensuring our son has a full and productive life. Like all parents, we want our son to work (both volunteer and paid employment), enjoy leisure activities, participate in sports, and have friends. Helping him fulfill his potential has consumed countless hours and relentless advocacy, especially by my wife.

One of the most difficult tasks, as our son transitioned to adulthood, has been locating gainful employment opportunities. Even with a significant effort, our son has paid employment for only five hours per week, at a clothing store and a local farm. This is indicative of a national problem and of the amount of effort still required to enable disabled people to participate as fully functioning members of our society.

John O’Connor