F.D.R. memorial may commemorate ignorance

James Jordan

Next spring in Washington D.C., the public will be able to visit a 7.5-acre, $42 million memorial commemorating the life of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But the disability community is not pleased. Why? Because none of the three proposed statues of FDR portray him as he spent most of his adult life: using a wheelchair or braces.

While ignorance about disabilities and disability issues during Roosevelt's lifetime led to frequent concealment of his disability, today it is common knowledge that he had a disability. The failure to portray him accurately in his memorial is a symbolic relapse back 50 years to that era of ignorance and shame which the disability community has fought so hard to overcome.

The memorial is meant to inspire people of the future, but an inaccurate portrayal ignores the challenges FDR faced and keeps people unaware of a natural part of the human experience. Forty-nine million Americans with disabilities face similar challenges today. In a national poll, 73 percent of Americans said they were in favor of a memorial that portrays FDR with his disability. The FDR Memorial Commission, however, refuses to depict President Roosevelt in his wheelchair.

At the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, President Clinton said, "I had a very moving visit with Christopher Reeve in the Oval Office, and I mentioned to Christopher that in 1933 the Oval Office was the first government office designed specifically to be accessible to accommodate President Roosevelt. He said to me that it was too bad, that at the time, he had to hide his disability.

"I hope with Christopher Reeve that as the Roosevelt Memorial becomes a reality, with your efforts to remove the stigma of disability, they'll find a way to make sure that the American people know that this great, great President was great with his disability."

President Clinton, as Honorary Chair of the FDR Memorial Commission, will respond to pressure on this issue. Contact him today! Thank him for his past support and insist that he continues it. Disability advocates across the country must voice their opinions on this issue to ensure an honest representation of FDR.

President Clinton
Chair of the FDR Memorial Commission
(202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-2461 FAX
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