“Young disabled people want very much to see themselves as having a meaningful, worthwhile future, one with work as a liberating force, but enhanced by social, cultural and learning experiences,” John Kemp testifies about DREAM BIG, Starkloff’s newest program for disabled youths.   

Kemp is a winner of the Dole Leadership Prize from the Dole Institute of Politics for his public service leadership that inspires others.  Previous recipients of this coveted award have been: former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela; former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko; former U.S. President George H. W. Bush; and former U.S. President of Poland Lech Walesa. 

Kemp was the featured speaker at the launch of Dream Big on October 5 at a private event in Clayton. He is President and CEO of the Viscardi Center in New York, a nonprofit organization where he and his wife Sam teach children with disabilities. that teaches children with disabilities that they will be welcomed into the workforce and accepted by society. 

As a person with a disability who uses four prostheses, Kemp inspires others to achieve the impossible through knowledge, experience, vision, personality and persistence. He is widely respected for his many achievements, both in the corporate and non-profit worlds. 

“People who are disabled want nothing more than what we all want; and they deserve every opportunity to enjoy life every day,” Kemp believes. “DREAM BIG takes their ‘virtual blinders’ off, those external limitations that have been quite unintentionally imposed upon them, so they can see a great, glorious future where they are respected and included.” 

“And work,” Kemp explains, “the dignity and economic freedom it brings us all, should very much be a part of their ‘future view,’ knowing they will someday soon enjoy all the benefits that good hard work brings us all. DREAM BIG does this very well.” 

Seventy-six people packed the elegant room at DREAM BIG’s program launch where SDI Board member Bruce Miller and his wife Susan were hosts.  A receiving line gave every guest the chance to meet John Kemp. 

Steve Degnan, SDI Board Chair and Chief of Human Resources at Nestle Purina Petcare, then gave opening remarks for the ceremony. “I am here tonight,” he said, “because I believe strongly in SDI’s mission.” Starkloff’s mission is to be The Workforce, Workplace Disability Advisor. Read Steve’s full speech by clicking here. 

Colleen Starkloff then introduced special guest, Mr. Kemp, a lifelong friends of Colleen and her late husband Max, who served side-by-side with her for over 47 years. “John has been fighting in the trenches for equality and independence for all people with disabilities practically since he was born,” Colleen asserted.  

“John can do that because he dreamed big about his future,” Colleen says. “He is a role model for the kids, challenging them to DREAM BIG about their futures every day in school. Dreaming big is personal with John,” Colleen said. She then introduced her friend, Mr. John Kemp. 

Kemp began by talking about the speed of societal change. “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, expecting them to use technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet,” he said. “Welcome to the field of education.” 

He asked what we are teaching people. “For students starting a four-year college degree, this means half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year,” Kemp predicted. 

“And then the power of the Web,” Kemp declared.  “It’s all about access and participation.” 

The statistics for emotional and economic quality vary depending on one’s era: Generation Transition (14-18 year-olds), Millennials (19-34 year-olds), Generation X (35-50 year-olds) or Baby Boomers (51-69 year-olds). John discussed each generation’s feelings, qualifications, beliefs and doings, which vary widely.  

“What was and is the promise of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]?” Kemp asked. “Equality of opportunity, independent living, economic self-sufficiency and full participation,” he says. “Don’t forget those.” 

But, he asked, “How do we use this in the internet age?” “Our parents,” Kemp tells us, “started really understanding that disability should not prevent us from participating fully in life.” Today there are more empowered people with disabilities who could never be told they are not welcome. “We cannot imagine it,” he professes. 

Kemp closed his discussion by quoting Nelson Mandel’s 1994 inaugural address: 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure … And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same and as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. 

“Let us liberate people with disabilities with the assurance of full civil rights and a great future,” he powerfully concluded. “Let them dream big.” 

About Post Author

© 2015 Starkloff Disability Institute