Remembering Leaders
in the Field of Blindness and Visual Impairment

George A. Conn, former RSA commissioner from 1981-1987, passed away on Tuesday, August 1, 2006.

He was 73 years young. George leaves his wife, Jane, their three children, and grandchildren.

George Conn was a diving enthusiast during his high school years in Evanston, IL and at Northwestern University, where he received his BS He was injured while serving in the U.S. Air Force, at the age of 27. After recovering in the base hospital and learning to live as a paraplegic, he devoted the rest of his life towards working to better the lives of disabled individuals.

Conn's activism for disabled individuals started at the state level when in 1966 he was appointed Executive Director of the Illinois Governor's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped. For the next seven years he led the effort to pass the first state constitutional article in the United States guaranteeing equity of opportunity in employment, education, and access to places of public accommodation for disabled people.

In 1972, his focus shifted to the federal level when he began directing public information programs for the Rehabilitation Services Administration, a post he held for three years. In 1973-74, he designed specifications for the Switzer Building, the first fully handicapped-accessible federal building, and developed the Bicentennial plan for access to all federal facilities, including the White House, for the National Capitol Park Service.

From 1975-77, Conn tackled national policy issues for the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals. Following two years in national policy posts with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Conn was appointed Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration by President Ronald Reagan in 1980, a position he held for six years exercising leadership for the agency that serviced more than one million severely mentally and physically handicapped people. During that time he also served as Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Research, acting as principal advisor to the Department of Education regarding programs for disabled individuals.

Organizations have continually recognized Conn's commitment to service. He has received a Presidential Citation and the Distinguished Service Award from the Disabled American Veterans, among many other honors. From 1961-64, he was a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team that won 17 gold medals in basketball and swimming. He was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame (1990) and the National Wheelchair Athletic Association Hall of Fame (1995).

Conn continued to be active. He earned a master's degree in history from the University of Maryland in 1992. As a Florida resident, in December 2002, he joined Northwestern's Sarasota Alumni Board of Directors, and in January 2003, Governor Jeb Bush appointed him to the Americans With Disabilities Act Working Group, the compliance board for the State of Florida.