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It’s a frustrating fact that those with physical disabilities are all too often sidelined in our society. For some, the path towards success is wrought with unnecessary obstacles and detours that most don’t have to face – or even think about. It might be this widespread, harmful unawareness that makes legislation protecting and supporting those with physical disabilities slow to come, and not as helpful as it needs to be.

I’m a firm believer that those with disabilities deserve the same access to opportunities that the non-disabled take for granted. That’s one of the many reasons that I support the work carried out by the Viscardi Center.

The Center was founded in 1952 with the mission to empower individuals to live fully integrated, active, and independent lives, and is a global force advocating for disability rights and more supportive legislation. Its founder, Henry Viscardi, was a driving power behind the Disabilities Education Act (1975), as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990).

The original incarnation of the center was a small, garage-based factory that employed disabled veterans in West Hempstead – but in the years since then, it has moved into a larger facility in Albertson and grown into a multifaceted organization that advances the education and career development through vocational training and educational programs for those of all ages.

As a mother, I particularly value the hard work the Center puts in to help children thrive. While the organization might have began with the aim of helping adults, it has grown into a truly wonderful support system for students with disabilities. Henry Viscardi opened a fully-accredited school at the Albertson campus in 1962, which gave students with conditions requiring periodic medical aid over the course of the day the chance to receive a quality education in a conventional setting.

Moreover, I appreciate the long-sighted view the Center takes towards helping those with disabilities; in my time as a volunteer, I’ve seen that those working with the organization truly care about making certain that those they help have the support they need to succeed, whether it’s in school or in the professional world. It does a tremendous amount of good, and creates a positive change in the lives of children and adults alike.

Around this time last year, I had the privilege to work with some of Viscardi’s students. My longtime friend Jo Jo Starbuck works hard every year to put on a benefit show at the school, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to participate. It was a wonderful event; the kids sang, danced in their wheelchairs, and put on skits. The energy and enthusiasm with which they put on their performances was inspiring!

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Camille Duvall Hero with fellow participants at the Center’s Celebrity Sports Night

 

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Banner for Viscardi Center Celebrity Sports Night

I was even able to participate in a skit. During my time onstage, I gave kids gold medals for participating in a basketball tournament – it was a lot of fun! After the performance, one of the young students gave me a hug as a thank-you. He was a good, hard hugger, and it melted me completely to tears. I got far more out of that night than I put in.

The Viscardi Center is a beautiful place, and I’m so happy that I was able to contribute in some small way.