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Eunice Kennedy Shriver: Tireless Activist for the Mentally Disabled

She was born into a powerful political family, but made her mark creating the Special Olympics. She died Tuesday at 88.  Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Thousands of mourners gathered Friday on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for the funeral of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She started the Special Olympics for athletes with mental disabilities. She died Tuesday at the age of eighty-eight.

Vice President Joe Biden was among guests at the funeral. The service included a Special Olympics torch carried by Special Olympians.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the sister of President John Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. Her surviving brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, is fighting brain cancer and did not attend the funeral.

But what she will be remembered for most is her activism that grew out of the struggles of her mentally retarded sister, Rosemary, who died four years ago.

The first Special Olympics took place in Chicago, Illinois. About one thousand athletes competed in nineteen sixty-eight. Today, more than three million train in one hundred fifty countries. The next World Summer Games are in Athens in two thousand eleven.

When Eunice Kennedy Shriver began her work, the disabled -- her sister included -- often spent most of their lives in hospitals or other institutions.

In the nineteen seventies, she worked for passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. That law guaranteed free and appropriate schooling for the estimated one million children at that time who were not receiving an education.

In nineteen eighty-four she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: "Let us not forget that we have miles to go to overturn the prejudice and oppression facing the world’s one hundred eighty million citizens with intellectual disabilities."

In the last two years, more than one hundred forty countries have signed a United Nations treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. President Obama signed it last month. But there are still "miles to go."

Andrew Imparato heads the American Association of People with Disabilities. He says the biggest challenge is jobs -- the disabled have the lowest employment rate of any minority group in the country.

He says they are often the ones earning the least, and most at risk of losing their jobs in the recession. Also, he says reforms are needed so disabled people do not lose certain health assistance by taking a job.

More than forty million Americans have some level of disability. An estimated seven and a half million have an intellectual disability.

In nineteen ninety Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act. It requires equal treatment in employment, government services, transportation and public places like hotels.

Doris Ray is a director of the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia. She says another important effort is a bill proposed this year in Congress: the Community Choice Act.

Currently most federal assistance for long-term care pays for services provided in nursing homes. The proposed law aims to expand community-based services for those who want to receive long-term care at home.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.