Returning to the location where the late Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. opened Abilities, Inc. – an organization that created both local and national opportunities for people with physical challenges – Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony J. Santino, Councilman Ed Ambrosino, Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad and Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin joined President and CEO John D. Kemp and other members of The Viscardi Center to unveil a “History Happened Here” marker. Abilities, Inc. operated at 59 Hempstead Gardens Drive in West Hempstead from 1952 to 1957, and is now a subsidiary of The Viscardi Center at its Albertson location.
Established at a time when many businesses were hesitant to hire physically challenged people, including returning veterans, Abilities, Inc. provided jobs, education and a voice for people with physical challenges. In fact, Abilities, Inc. was among the first businesses in the United States to be staffed primarily by people with physical challenges. The organization also served as a shop where people with disabilities worked as subcontractors for prestigious American companies such as Grumman Aircraft, General Electric, IBM and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“Working out of a garage in West Hempstead, Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. and Abilities, Inc. singlehandedly transformed the lives of people with physical challenges throughout America,” stated Supervisor Santino. “The Town of Hempstead is proud to honor the legacy of Dr. Viscardi and his successors at The Viscardi Center with this ‘History Happened Here’ marker.”
“I am proud to partner with Supervisor Santino, Councilwoman Goosby and The Viscardi Center to preserve this important piece of history in America’s largest township,” said Councilman Ambrosino. Added Councilwoman Goosby, “We commend The Viscardi Center for all their work on behalf of our residents, and we’re excited to unveil this marker in the West Hempstead community.”
Dr. Viscardi was an advisor to several U.S. Presidents, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who himself had physical challenges. Dr. Viscardi’s tireless efforts would help inspire the Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensured that children with disabilities had access to public education.
Growing from a few dozen to more than 400 employees in just five years, Abilities, Inc. relocated to a larger facility Albertson, where it remains in operation as part of The Viscardi Center. Now a network of non-profit organizations that educates, employs and empowers over 3,000 children and adults with disabilities each year, The Viscardi Center provides many great programs and services to people with physical challenges, including an accredited K-12 school and the National Business & Disability Council.
“Sixty-four years ago, this site became a model for the world when Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. founded and operated one of the first U.S. businesses to be staffed primarily by people with disabilities,” said John D. Kemp, President & CEO of The Viscardi Center (originally known as Abilities, Inc.). “Dr. Viscardi, who himself wore prosthetic legs and served as disability advisor to eight U.S. Presidents, demonstrated that disabled veterans from World War II and the Korean War had the skills and abilities to be successful, productive employees. In one year’s time, he created new jobs for 57 men and women, all of whom others felt were unemployable, and established a viable enterprise that continues to carry out his vision today.” The Viscardi Center, a network of non-profit organizations, educates, employs and empowers over 3,000 children and adults with disabilities each year.
“We are grateful to Abilities, Inc. and The Viscardi Center for their hard work and dedication to people with physical challenges in the Town of Hempstead and across Long Island,” concluded Supervisor Santino. “The unveiling of this historical marker will serve to educate future generations on ‘where it all began.’”