For nearly 30 years, the international non-profit organization Best Buddies has been working to promote inclusiveness and to end the social, physical, and economic isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Read on for a look back at some of the most important milestones from Best Buddies’ history, as well as some of the influential moments and events that led to the organization’s founding.
1962—In an article published in the Saturday Evening Post, Eunice Kennedy Shriver shared the story of her older sister Rosemary, who was born with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While Shriver had already been an active advocate for IDD rights for many years, this article proved to be an important step forward in bringing disability rights issues into mainstream awareness, and in championing the cause of community integration and inclusion over institutionalization for people with IDD.
1963—Originally titled the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act), the Mental Retardation and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy. This piece of legislation authorized federal grants for the construction of public and/or non-profit community health centers intended to serve people with IDD.
1973—With the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, individuals with disabilities were, for the first time, protected from discrimination based on their ability level.
1975—Under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, all public schools receiving federal funding were required to provide equal access to education, as well as one free meal daily, for children with mental and physical disabilities.
1987—Anthony Kennedy Shriver, the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the first Best Buddies Chapter at Georgetown University. The original program followed a similar model to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program; Anthony Shriver had volunteered as a Big Brother for a number of years prior to starting Best Buddies.
1988—This year saw the adoption of the now-iconic Best Buddies logo: a brightly-colored graphic featuring two individuals in a friendly embrace. The logo was created by the pop artist Keith Haring, who donated it to Best Buddies in honor of one of his own family members living with special needs.
1989—Best Buddies was officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization on January 19th. With this designation, the organization became the first in the United States to offer a national, unified, social, and recreational program for people with IDD.
1990—In a watershed moment for the disability rights movement, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. A wide-ranging civil rights law offering broad protection against discrimination for people with any form of disability, the ADA still serves as the benchmark for disability legislation in the US.
1993—Just a few short years after its official incorporation, Best Buddies launched what would be the first of many new programs and initiatives intended to serve and support people with IDD. 1993 saw the introduction of Best Buddies Citizens, which paired adults with IDD with non-disabled working peers.
1994—Best Buddies Jobs launched in Florida, California, and Massachusetts. With the goal of fulfilling one of the organization’s key priorities—integrated employment—Best Buddies Jobs worked to place people with IDD in well-paid, meaningful corporate jobs.
1995—Best Buddies High Schools was launched. This innovative program sought to promote meaningful friendships between special education students and high school volunteers without IDD: the program matched students in one-on-one relationships supported by Best Buddies staff.
1999—In response to the rapid growth of digital technology and the Internet, Best Buddies launched e-Buddies, its innovative e-mail pen pal program, in 1999.
2000—The inaugural Best Buddies Challenge, a fundraising bicycle race and walk/run event, was held in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
2003—This was a year for Best Buddies to celebrate the scope of its reach: as of 2003, the organization had participants on six continents and in all 50 US states.
2009—This year saw the establishment of Best Buddies Friendship Walks, an important fundraising and awareness-building event that now takes place nationwide, year-round.
2010—Signed into law by President Barack Obama, Rosa’s Law marked an important step forward in disability terminology. Under Rosa’s Law, the term “mental retardation” was replaced by “intellectual disability” in a number of federal laws. This year also marked the passage of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act, under which Best Buddies was authorized to receive federal funding.
2011—The Best Buddies Ambassadors program was launched with the goal of boosting the public speaking and advocacy skills of people with IDD and their allies.
2014—Two important pieces of disability legislation were passed this year: the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which requires all workforce programs to include opportunities for people with disabilities; and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, under which people with disabilities are permitted to create tax-free savings for qualified expenses including education and housing.