Joseph T. Weingold was our agency’s first Executive Director, having taken on the role in 1950. As a parent of a child with developmental disabilities, Joseph, (also known as Jerry to his friends,) advocated for the rights of people with disabilities for more than 40 years.
In AHRC’s archival documents, is a speech that Mr. Weingold gave to the first National Convention of Parents of Mentally Retarded Children in 1950. His speech, (reprinted in the 1970’s through the NYSARC, Inc. publication: Our Children’s Voice,) provides a parent’s view of the world of people with disabilities, as it existed in that decade.
With the passing of time, we have seen changes in the terminology used to describe people with disabilities. Despite his inclusion of words that we may no longer consider to be politically correct, there is a message at the heart of Weingold’s speech that remains timeless. A transcript of Mr. Weingold’s message appears below, as it was delivered over six decades ago.
A Parent’s Voice
I feel it a signal honor to have been asked to present a parent’s view, that is, the view of a parent of a mentally retarded child. Perhaps no single parent can express the views of all of us. By circumstances, however, more unforeseen by me than anything of which I could have conceived, I have been thrust into the midst of this problem and have come in contact with it far more, perhaps, than most parents.
In the process of giving my full working day every day, and many nights, to the problems arising out of mental retardation, across my desk have come letters from all over the world – the large cities in the United States, the small hamlet where one lonely parent cries out to the others, Canada, Israel, France, Mexico, Africa, – all the parents clutching at a whisper of hope from across the continent, the sea.
Into my office come the parents of the very little ones who have just been told their child is mongoloid, the parents of the children of kindergarten age – excused, teen age – without companions, without training, without jobs, without a future. Each is a little different from the other, but all, all are alike in their desperate seeking for something – something. Each asks, “What can you do for my child?”
No person stands alone in this world. Each is part of a family, with brothers and sisters. Multiply these individual cases by thousands until the staggering figure of some three million people, their parents, their relatives, their friends, and you get some idea of the enormous size of our problem.
It would seem that it is all hopeless, and until a short while ago perhaps it was. But one thing runs like a shining thread through all the questionings and the seekings of the parents, and that is: At last there is a place, a group, a body of fellow human beings to whom they can come and who share their problems. Their first reaction is hope and joy, then disappointment because the facilities are not yet there, and finally the resolve to go on together to solve a common problem.
I see here among the parents in this room a man whom I met for the first time in Columbus last May, at the first meeting of the parents groups. He came along with his retarded child because there was no one with whom to leave him back home. There was no organization in his state. There were no facilities for his child. But he had to know whether he stood alone or whether, somewhere, there were others like him. After Columbus he was put on the list of Parents Groups as a one man organization. And he is here tonight, a delegate from an organization of some 50 parents, where three months ago, there were none and he was alone.
I see here among the parents a woman whose two children are mentally retarded due to brain disease, doomed perhaps. Nothing that parent groups can ever accomplish will solve her problem. Yet she is the motivating force in her organization of parents. I know many members of our own Association whose children are adults, as old as 40, who work hard for the organization. What have they to gain? For their children, little if anything, but for all the other retarded children, perhaps the world.
All these parents have found what all of us, as members of parent groups have found, a means of contributing to the solution of some of the problems arising out of mental retardation by self help. They have taken a positive role in what until now has been a totally negative situation. All parents can have this healthy self respect for what they can contribute. Just as professionals specialize in specific areas, so too do parents have a specific role which cannot be duplicated.
Where can we learn better about the terrible needs of the children than out of the pooled experiences of thousands of parents? Where can we learn better from each disappointment, each hope unrealized, what should be done for our children?
What else, besides their experiences, have parents to contribute? For one thing, they are a cross section of the talents and abilities of the nation. Do we need legislative talents? We have them. Do we need the art and technique of educating the public? We have the public relations experts. Do we need legal, literary, administrative, fund raising and other business and executive talents? They are found among the parents.
Moreover, the parents are the people. They owe allegiance to no one but their children. Where professionals, though sympathetic to the extreme, find their hands tied because they serve the state, the state, in turn, must serve the people.
Perhaps the most important of all is the driving love we have for our children which can be harnessed as a positive force to telescope in time the accomplishments delayed for centuries. But to the parents let me make this plea:
Let no insular or selfish view of the problem of retardation hinder or cloud our objectives. Too frequently do our personal problems or what seems to be a personal solution color our thinking and blinds us to the overall aims, the encompassing philosophy that should guide us. Let us remember that we, as parents, are dedicated to all retarded children, whether in public schools, at home, or in institutions, whether mongoloid, brain injured or whatever. Let us dedicate ourselves to this proposition: that every retarded child in every situation deserves and must get the opportunity to achieve his or her maximum development within his or her capacity. This is their birthright as Americans. This is not the most, but the least, they should expect from us.
While there may be some doubt as to how much we may be able to change our children for the world’s sake, there can be no doubt about how much we must change the world for our children’s sake.
-Joseph T. Weingold (1950)