Viscardi, Henry, Jr. 1912-2004

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VISCARDI, Henry, Jr. 1912-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born May 10, 1912, in New York, NY; died April 13, 2004, in Roslyn, NY. Activist and author. Viscardi was a renowned champion for the disabled, establishing numerous foundations, corporations, and training facilities for the disabled during a career that spanned five decades. Born with two stumps for legs, he developed a can-do attitude early in life despite this disadvantage. He worked to pay his own way through college, which included Fordham University and St. John's Law School. During the 1930s, he worked as a tax clerk for the Home Owners' Loan Corporation; when World War II began, he tried to enlist in each branch of the U.S. military but was rejected by all of them. However, the Red Cross employed him as a field service officer, and Viscardi proved that he had the right stuff when he successfully completed basic training at Fort Dix, becoming known, appropriately, as the "legless man from Fort Dix." During the war, he worked with amputees for the Office of the Surgeon General at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. With the war over, Viscardi was hired by the Mutual Broadcasting System as assistant director of special events and sports, and in 1947 he became director of personnel at Burlington Mills Corporation. In 1949, Viscardi's career helping the handicapped took flight when he was asked to head Just One Break, a program that helped disabled people get jobs in the mainstream workplace. Up until that time, most people suffering from disabilities were grudgingly given menial tasks in places where they were separated from the rest of the work force. Viscardi, however, set out on a mission to prove that the handicapped had just as much to offer as everyone else and that they did not require charity to get by. He soon established a number of organizations to demonstrate his point, beginning with his 1952 founding of the nonprofit Abilities, Inc. That year, he also was made president and chair of the Human Resources Foundation. In the 1960s, he established the Human Resources Center, a think tank that studied the role of the disabled in the workplace, and he created a training center for children with disabilities that was renamed the National Center for Disability Services in 1991. From the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter, Viscardi also served as a consultant to U.S. presidents. The author of several books on his favorite subject, including Give Us the Tools (1959), Abilities Story (1967), But Not on Our Block (1972), and Matching Job and Worker Characteristics (1973), Viscardi received numerous awards in recognition of his contributions to society, including the International Humanity Service Award, the Silver Medal from Paris, the Medal of Japan, the President's Award from the National Rehabilitation Association, and over two dozen honorary doctorates, among many others.



Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2004, p. B11.

New York Times, April 16, 2004, p. C10.