Melanie Coen
Dole Institute of Politics

Disabilities leader to receive 2014 Dole Leadership Prize

Wed, 11/19/2014

LAWRENCE — The Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas has announced that it will honor John Kemp of The Viscardi Center with the 2014 Dole Leadership Prize. The prize will be awarded at an interview-style program to take place at the Dole Institute at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14. The event is free and open to the public.

Kemp is the president & CEO of The Viscardi Center, a network of nonprofit organizations that provides a lifespan of services that educate, employ and empower children and adults with disabilities, based in Albertson, New York. He is widely respected for his many achievements, both in the corporate and nonprofit worlds. As a person who uses four prostheses, Kemp inspires others to achieve the impossible through knowledge, experience, vision, personality and persistence. A graduate of Georgetown University in 1971, Kemp has a Kansas connection through his degree from Washburn University School of Law. Kemp was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Washburn’s law school in May 2003. In March 2006, Kemp received the Henry B. Betts Award, widely regarded as America's highest honor for disability leadership and service.

“As a wounded veteran and tireless advocate for disability rights, Senator Dole has taken a personal interest in Mr. Kemp’s outstanding service to the disabilities community. Mr. Kemp couldn’t be more deserving,” said Dole Institute director Bill Lacy. “Additionally, this year’s prize is a fitting introduction to the upcoming 25-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which we will begin commemorating this summer.”

The Dole Leadership Prize is awarded annually to an individual or group whose public service leadership inspires others. The prize includes a $25,000 award. Kemp has chosen to donate this monetary award to The Viscardi Center.

Previous winners of the Dole Leadership Prize include Nelson Mandela, the Wounded Warrior Project, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, Women Air Service Pilots of WWII, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former U.S. senators Howard Baker and George McGovern, former Polish President Lech Walesa, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former President George H.W. Bush.

“I am humbled to have been chosen by Senator Robert Dole to receive this year’s Dole Leadership Prize and to join an elite group of past recipients who have made positive impacts on the lives of people around the world,” Kemp said. “I have dedicated my life to improving the quality of life for all people with disabilities, and it is my hope that this distinction shines the spotlight on The Viscardi Center and the work it does every day to build the leaders of tomorrow and contributing members of society today.”

With more than 50 years of direct experience in the disability movement, Kemp has partnered with, worked for and served as board member, chair or CEO of some of the leading disability and nonprofit organizations in the U.S., such as United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Very Special Arts, Half the Planet Foundation, Independent Sector, The Abilities Fund Inc., Disability Service Providers of America, Easter Seals, Goodwill Industries of America, U.S. Business Leadership Network and the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, to name a few. In 1995, Kemp co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities with Paul Hearne. In 2001, Kemp became a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville P.C., where he developed an active federal legislative and lobbying practice.

Kemp has served on the Medicaid Commission as well as the U.S. State Department's Advisory Committee on Persons with Disabilities, which guided the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the Agency for International Development (USAID) in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy and assistance with respect to people with disabilities.

In November 2012, he was asked to serve on the NYS READY Commission, established by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of critical infrastructure and key service providers that the state depends on to mitigate and respond to major disasters. In January 2014, Kemp received one of eight David Awards bestowed upon “Renaissance men” of Long Island by Networking magazine, for honorees who have exceled in business or academics and have also accomplished outstanding heroic and humanitarian acts.

The Viscardi Center’s programs and services include pre-K through high school education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement, and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents and adults with disabilities and businesses. It was founded in 1952 by Dr. Henry Viscardi Jr., who himself wore prosthetic legs. Viscardi served as disability adviser to eight U.S. presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter, and became one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities.

The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics is dedicated to promoting public service, civic engagement and politics. It is located on KU’s west campus and includes the Robert J. Dole Archive & Special Collections. The Institute offers free public programming with world-renowned guest speakers on a variety of topics that intersect politics, a research archive, museum gallery, and interactive opportunities for students of all ages.

For more information on this or any Dole Institute programs, visit or call 785-864-4900. 

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