JANUARY 2020 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 19
Ever since it was founded in 1952
by Dr. Henry Viscardi Jr., The
Viscardi Center in Albertson
has been effectively working to
eliminate the many barriers that
people with disabilities all too
often face at school, work, and
elsewhere. John D. Kemp, who was
named president and CEO of this
network of nonprofit organizations
in 2011, recently spoke with us
about the organization’s mission,
what makes it unique, how it uses
technology, the challenges it’s
facing, and several other subjects.
Q: What makes The Viscardi Center unique?
JK: We are unique in the fact that our educational
and employment-related programs and services
assist individuals with all types of disabilities
through the full life span – PreK to senior citizens.
What truly makes us special is our staff. Each staff
member has wholeheartedly chosen professions
that positively change lives each and every day.
Q: What is the mission of The Viscardi Center?
JK: The Viscardi Center educates, employs,
and empowers youth, adults, and veterans
with disabilities or similar needs, so we can all
discover the love of learning, the power of work,
the freedom of independent living, and the selfconfidence
to fulfill our dreams.
Q: How do you use technology to accomplish
JK: We have a state-of-the-art, fully accessible
conference and production facility that we use
for meetings, video production and distance
learning. The Henry Viscardi School has more
than 300 personal laptops in each classroom. All
rooms are now equipped with interactive white
boards and FM loops, when needed, to enhance
the learning experience of all students. We’ve
created a “backpack-less” learning environment
for students by implementing cloud storage
for class and homework assignments. A fully
accessible on-campus SMART home is currently
being constructed, in which young people with
disabilities can experience independent living in
a safe environment. We’ve enhanced our school’s
digital media and art classes by introducing laser
engraving and 3D printing.
Q: How have things changed at your
organization since Viscardi started?
JK: In late fall 2019, The Viscardi Center
launched a National Center for Disability
Entrepreneurship, which is a strategic pathway to
combat the many barriers that lead to widespread
unemployment and underemployment within
the disability community. Through its program
modules, it will educate, transform, and empower
its members to achieve self-employment success.
Spotlight Long Island
The Viscardi Center: Eliminating Barriers That People with
Disabilities Face at School, Work and in Our Community
Q: What else is new at The
JK: We’re in the early stages of
building out a universally designed
health and wellness center with
a completely renovated, fully
accessible indoor pool that will
offer community programming,
as well as being used by those we
serve and our staff.
Q: How did you get started in the
work that you do?
JK: Born without arms and legs, I
have tried to be a champion of the
disability community nearly my whole life. At
age 7, I attended an Easter Seals camp and began
speaking about its impact. My role as a disability
ambassador heightened when I was named the
1960 National Easter Seal poster child. My path
to becoming a national leader in the disability
community started in 1990 when I became CEO
at United Cerebral Palsy and in 1995 when I cofounded
the American Association of People with
Disabilities with Paul G. Hearne, a graduate of
Henry Viscardi School. We met in Washington,
D.C., at a time when we as people with disabilities
had little political and/or economic power. We
drew upon our experiences and challenges,
creating an organization made up of thousands
of individuals with disabilities to drive forward
progress in these two critical areas. When I was
approached to lead Viscardi, I was a partner in
a D.C. law firm advocating for federal disability
Once I visited Viscardi,
it was easy to accept the
role at our organization
founded by a renowned
leader with a disability,
Dr. Henry Viscardi Jr.,
an international role
model. He was that role
model for me when I saw
him deliver a powerful
keynote address as a
Q: What is your favorite
part of your job?
JK: I love to know and
watch the development
of young people we
serve in our school and
program participants in
our adolescent and adult
Q: What is the biggest
challenge of your job?
JK: Finding the essential
resources to fuel our
next generation of programs and services, and
maintaining the necessary support of our critical,
core programs of education, employment and
empowerment is my biggest challenge.
Q: What major trends are you seeing?
JK: Changes in public policy priorities might
have a tremendous impact on Viscardi, from
sufficiency of New York State school funding,
to youth transition and at-risk youth programs,
to federal and state tax policies. These are trend
factors we watch very closely.
Q: July marks the 30th anniversary of the
passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA). What’s significant about that to your
JK: We mark the annual anniversary through
a variety of activities, including participating
in the Disability Pride Parade each July in New
York City. This year, we’ll focus a bit more on
raising awareness about the unemployment crisis
for those of us with disabilities and continue to
develop our next generation of disability rights
advocates and leaders.
Custom Computer Specialists is proud to
sponsor Spotlight LI. Since 1979, Custom
has been dedicated to providing Long
Island’s schools, local government agencies,
healthcare facilities and businesses with
advanced technology solutions and support.
To learn more about Custom Computer, or to be
considered for a future Spotlight LI, please email
Custom Computer Specialists
Right People. Right Results.®
JOHN D. KEMP,
President and CEO of
The Viscardi Center
John D. Kemp is in his office with the Henry Viscardi School Class of
2019 Valedictorian and Salutatorian. Uriya(left), now attending Hofstra
University and Phillip(right), now attending Stonybrook University.