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1983 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Henry Viscardi, Jr.*

Founder
National Center for Disability Services

"Blessed are those who dream dreams and are willing to pay the price to make them come true."

Hank Viscardi, the son of an Italian barber, was born in 1912 with what doctors called "arrested development of the lower limbs." He spent the first six years of his life in the hospital as doctors tried to strengthen his short thighs so that they could carry his weight. He underwent many corrective surgeries and endured painful traction. Finally, he was fitted with casts that enabled him to walk. He hardly knew his mother and had not yet met his two sisters.

In the next eight years, Viscardi breezed through the primary grades and high school. He also served as manager of the basketball team and covered school sports for the New York Times. He earned money refereeing basketball games. When his father died, Viscardi and his older sister had to provide for his mother and three younger sisters. Still, when the time came, the Viscardis decided he should go to college.

He attended Fordham and worked his way through by sweeping floors, waiting on tables, and helping in the administration office. He graduated as an honor student. At the age of 27, he was fit with his first artificial legs. During World War II, he served as a field-service officer for the Red Cross, where he worked with amputees. By 1947, he was director of personnel of Burlington Mills, but he noticed others with physical disabilities were unable to find employment. In 1952, he founded Abilities, Inc., where he helped train handicapped adults and find them jobs. In 1962, Viscardi founded the Human Resources School, which was dedicated and renamed after him in 1992.

The author of eight books, Viscardi is best known for A Man's Stature, which was printed in 1952 and reprinted in 1987. Viscardi has advised every president since Franklin Roosevelt about the affairs of our nation's disabled. He spoke of the philosophy that has sustained him in his path-finding years of work with the handicapped when he said, "Life demands love. Loving means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all. Faith means believing the unbelievable, and to hope means hoping when things are hopeless."

Viscardi says he believes that what he has achieved personally and professionally could only have happened in America. "In what other land would I, a person born without legs, have been given the opportunity to become a learned man? I learned a great lesson from the doctor who gave me artificial legs. When I couldn't pay his bill, he told me if I would make the difference for one other life-a life dependent on the charity of family or the community-that his bill would be repaid. I'm still paying that bill."

* Deceased