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"It means people on crutches and in a wheelchair can do anything."
--Hannah McFadden, 4, at the January 10, 2001 dedication of a stature showing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the wheelchair he designed for himself

"We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization."
--Quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, appearing on a wall at the FDR Memorial, where a statue showing him in his wheelchair was unveiled on January 10, 2001

January 9, 2001: Statue To Show "Whole FDR"
January 12, 2001: FDR Statue Shows Him In His Wheelchair
April 13, 2001: Children who Shared FDR's Secret Disability Gather To Remember Him

NOD's photo essay of FDR in his wheelchair

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Statue To Show "Whole FDR"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 9, 2001
WASHINGTON, DC--During a ceremony tomorrow morning, President Clinton will unveil what is being called "a shrine for people with disabilities" -- a life-size bronze statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting in his wheelchair. The sculpture at the FDR National Memorial in West Potomac Park, is the result of years of efforts by people with disabilities, advocates, and Roosevelt family members.

By most accounts, young Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been a vain and insincere man, born into a family of wealth and luxury. A likable, charming relative of president Teddy Roosevelt, it seemed certain Franklin would have a successful political life.

One morning in 1921, when Roosevelt was 39 years of age, things changed for him and for the world. He had contracted polio, a disease that was rather common in those days. Because of the resulting condition, called "poliomyelitis", FDR couldn't get out of bed. In fact, his legs didn't work at all.

Many people who knew FDR say something changed within the man at that point. Not only did his determination to succeed grow tremendously, but so did a certain compassion for others.

And in the days when people with physical disabilities, known then as "invalids", were hidden from public view, FDR decided to move ahead with his career while hiding his disability from the public. Roosevelt built a wheelchair using bicycle and tricycle parts and a kitchen chair, then rolled forward to eventually be elected to four presidencies and lead the U.S. through the end of the Great Depression and World War Two.

Even though FDR wheeled around the White House from 1933 to 1945, he and his advisors were worried that the American people, not to mention his enemies, would think his disability made him weak. For this reason, the fact that he could not walk was hidden from the public. Politicians and the news media helped keep this secret. Today, there are very few known photographs available showing the president in his wheelchair.

The life-sized statue presented tomorrow reportedly does little to hide the president's disability. The sculpture sits at ground level, rather than on a pedestal or platform, and is positioned in front of the memorial itself. Visitors can go right up to and touch the seated figure. People who use wheelchairs can park alongside the president. Children can sit in his lap.

In a letter to the New York Times, sixteen of FDR's grandchildren wrote, "The goal of the FDR Memorial must be to enable future generations to understand the whole man and the events and experiences that helped to shape his character. We believe that this cannot be accomplished without a commitment to a permanent, meaningful portrayal in the Memorial of FDR's disability and how the process of adjusting to living with his disability made him a better and more able man and President."

About a year ago, the National Park Service asked a group of scholars to recommend a quote to accompany the sculpture. This is one quote, from FDR himself, that the committee suggested:
"We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought."

That statement was eventually rejected in favor of the following quote from FDR's wife Eleanor Roosevelt:
"Franklin's illness . . . gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons -- infinite patience and never-ending persistence."

When asked by the committee to endorse Eleanor's quote, advocates Paul Longmore and Simi Linton refused, saying the quotation (and two others) "reinforce the typical view that disability is mainly a private issue of physical struggle, psychological adjustment, and personal character".

Nevertheless, it is Eleanor's quote which now accompanies the sculpture. Several FDR quotes line a wall behind the statue.

The National Organization on Disability (NOD) has been instrumental in gathering support for the exhibit and sculpture. Because of their efforts, and those of countless others, no public funds were used. Here is a photo essay on the exhibit from the NOD website:

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FDR Statue Shows Him In His Wheelchair
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 12, 2001

WASHINGTON, DC--Wednesday, President Clinton unveiled a life-size bronze statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, depicting him as he was for much of his life in the White House -- seated in the wheelchair he designed for himself.

"It is grand and beautiful, all right, but it is so accessible in a way that, I think, would have pleased President Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt," Clinton told the crowd gathered at the FDR Memorial.

"The power of the statue is in its immediacy, and its reminder for all who touch, who see, who wheel and walk around, that they, too, are free."

The fact that FDR had contracted polio long before his bid for the presidency was hidden from much of the world during his life. In fact, only four photographs of him in his wheelchair are known to exist.

This story from Thursday's CNN website has links to video and audio segments of Clinton's speech, along photographs of the statue itself:

The Uppity-Disability website has some video and audio taken during the dedication ceremony:

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Children who Shared FDR's Secret Disability Gather To Remember Him
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 13, 2001

WARM SPRINGS, GEORGIA--On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died of a stroke while sitting for a portrait. The world knew that he died at a home he had built at Warm Springs, Georgia. What most of the world did not know, however, was that the president had spent a great deal of time visiting the resort because it's pools of mineral-rich, 88-degree water helped sooth the effects polio had on his legs.

Yesterday, 164 people who knew of FDR's secret disability gathered to remember him and the impact he had on their lives. When they were children, they had been brought to the Warm Springs resort for treatment and therapy because they too had had polio. Many of them saw their country's leader wheeling around in his home-made wheelchair, and being lifted in and out of automobiles and pools by Secret Service agents.

"I think we understood him better than other people did, because we understood what he had to go through to get where he was," said Charles Dickens of Atlanta, who came for therapy in the thermal pools at Warm Springs when he was a teenager in 1942.

Here is a story from today's Washington Post:

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