Age of Autism Comment of the Week
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Galen Kirkland, NY State Division of Human Rights, on Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice_Kennedy_Shriver By Galen D. Kirkland, Commissioner, New York Division of Human Rights

The world lost one of the great champions of human rights with the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Born to privilege, she focused her life on the aspirations and dignity of those less fortunate. She was a woman who changed the world for the better.

In 1960 a woman told Mrs. Shriver that she couldn’t find a summer camp for her developmentally disabled—what was then called “retarded”—child. Regular camps wouldn’t take such a child.

“Enough,” Eunice said.

And with that word, she changed the world. Two years later she opened Timberland, her family farm in Maryland to 50 of these challenged children. She paired them with 50 high school students, including her son, Tim. Skeptics, and even many of the counselors, said she was wasting her time, these children weren’t teachable, they said.  

The world was wrong and Mrs. Shriver was right: The children thrived: they played ball, they rode horses they swam and had fun.

And thus was born Camp Shriver which was the cauldron from which was cast the Special Olympics, an international organization in which more than 3 million athletes compete every year, competing against their peers to the cheers of the world.

But perhaps most important Mrs. Shriver brought the children out of the shadows and into the light. It sparked of one of the most fundamental changes in America. It helped transform the nation from a place where the disabled were hidden away to a place where we now celebrate their achievements.

Camp Shriver and the Special Olympics reminded us that each person has their own talents that deserve to be celebrated and that it is not only the fastest, the strongest, the best looking that should be showcased.

It may be now hard to remember back to that time, but it was not so long ago that it was acceptable to shun the disabled. Cases like the Willowbrook State School scandal in Staten Island, New York, where thousands of disabled students were living in deplorable conditions and used as guinea pigs for medical studies, are painful reminders of the way we as a nation viewed and treated our disabled population.  

Today, as a result of her tireless work, the laws that protect people with disabilities are stronger than ever. Under the New York State Human Rights Law the definition of disability remains considerably more comprehensive than the federal definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, our Law was expanded to require public accommodations to provide greater access to their facilities for people with disabilities.
While we mourn the passing of Mrs. Shriver, we continue to follow in her footsteps in New York and around the world in ensuring that the dignity and human rights of all people are recognized.

Mrs. Shriver was speaking not only to people with disabilities but to all people when she opened the 1987 World Special Olympics with these words:
You are the stars and the world is watching you.
By your presence you send a message to every village; every city every nation.
A message of hope a message of victory.
The right to play on any playing field?
You have earned it.
The right to study in any school?
You have earned it.
The right to be anyone’s neighbor?
You have earned it.
Galen D. Kirkland is Commission of the New York State Division of Human Rights



Babara Fischkin

Our son Danny has spent some of the best times of his childhood in Camp Loyaltown, an AHRC camp at Hunter Mountain which would not have been started without the philosophy promoted by Eunice Shriver.
Of course the camp runs because of its fine directors, staff and medical personnel, all of whom work "in the spirit" of Mrs. Shriver. I would say she should rest in peace but wherever she is, I bet she isn't resting but rather working for our children.

chantal Sicile-Kira

Eunice Shriver will be missed, but her legacy lives on.
Mrs Shriver was a fine example of how one person CAN make a difference and change the world for many, many others.


Rest in peace, Mrs. Shriver.

I think about the parents of disabled kids who went before us sometimes and what they had to go through - our kids are really very lucky in some ways. Not lucky to be disabled, but lucky to be disabled in a time when there is so much more out there to help them than there was a few generations ago.

Jim Mulvaney

Mrs. Shriver was the Abraham Lincoln of the disabilities movement. She showed that it was okay to be different and continued to make her point when people tried to look away.


Eunice Kennedy Shriver helped so many people, bless her heart. She will be missed.


When I read that Ms Shriver was in the hospital I prayed. I realize that every ones time comes but losing her, well, it's losing a champion. What a powerful woman in a petite package.
But a lady knows when to take her leave and she was a lady of grand proportion. When I heard that she had died, I cried open tears for her.
She opened windows AND DOORS for people with disabilties. She will be sadly missed.
God bless and keep her.


I'm so glad that AoA posted a story about Eunice Kennedy Shriver. What she did, in the context of her time, was amazing -- not only the Special Olympics but work in other areas as well. And it all started with her love for one of her sisters, who had a mental handicap.

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