Theodore R. Johnson has his checkbook ready to guarantee every disabled student in Florida a college education.
In what is believed to be the nation's largest donation to the handicapped, Mr. Johnson, a 90-year-old millionaire from Delray Beach, Fla., has promised to help foot the full tuition for all disabled students in Florida's nine public universities.
The awards, which would begin in the fall, would help an estimated 2,000 students meet the rising cost of higher education. The gifts would average about $2,500 per student, but could be as high at $5,000 per year.
"I want to help someone in a bad situation, who is maybe deaf or blind or hurt as result of an accident or disease," Mr. Johnson said yesterday. "An education is an important thing and it should be open to all disabled people."
Mr. Johnson is no stranger to helping students. He donated $36 million in 1991 for scholarships aimed at middle-income students, American Indians and students attending deaf and blind schools in the District of Columbia and St. Augustine, Fla.
The money comes from the interest in his charitable trust estimated to be worth more than $70 million.
Mr. Johnson said his life's philosophy is to help deserving people who are often overlooked.
"Talented kids can go to Yale and Princeton, but there are not very many scholarships for kids who are average but want desperately to get a college education," he said.
Johnson, who has needed a hearing aid since his mid-20s, also wants to use his money to make sure the handicapped have the chance to be the best they can be.
Rhonda Decker, who has cerebral palsy and attends Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, said Mr. Johnson's gift is a godsend. "A lot of disabled students don't qualify for government aid."
With Mr. Johnson's gift, all disabled students who maintain at least 2.0 grade point averages would receive annual scholarships. Details are still being formalized, but the donations also may be used to cover the cost of learning aids such as Braille readers or special computers.
Mr. Johnson is not certain how much his gift for disabled students would total annually, but the money would come from the interest of his trust fund. He wants state legislators to match $1 for every $2 he donates, but even if they don't, he said, he will still give out scholarships.