Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Power people with disabilities leading the world

16 May 2012I find it really inspiring when I learn of famous or successful people who have a disability; it gives me great hope that there is room for people like me in the professional world, and we are making progress with equality.

When I find out that someone during the 1930’s had a disability and a high profile career at the same time, it shows that no matter what our barriers are, if we want to achieve something badly enough, it is possible. That’s how it was for Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR, former president of the United States of America.

Most people did not know until many years later that FDR had a disability. He did not let it stop him doing anything he wanted to do, and he also did a good job at hiding it from the public eye.

FDR, who was President of the USA from 1933 – 1945, was often referred to as ‘crippled’ due to a bout of Polio he contracted during 1921, which caused paralysis in his lower body.

To this day, a photo of FDR in his wheelchair is very rare, as he always wanted to appear more mobile than he was. He even had a deal with the media, that they would not photograph him until he was out of his wheelchair, and settled into another chair. He really wanted no acknowledgement of his disability at all, he didn’t want to be pitied by anyone.

Despite him not being able to get out of bed, get dressed, toilet himself or get to his desk without assistance of his aide or his wheelchair, FDR still persevered with full length leg braces and a cane, so that he could greet officials, or speak at a podium. He would even walk beside someone with a sturdy hand and his cane for short distances, to prevent his disability from becoming a public topic of discussion.

During this time, it was considered impolite to mention someone’s inabilities to them, even someone in such a high profile position as FDR. His main fear was that his disability would inhibit the public from wanting to vote him into power, but even though most people were aware of it, it seemed to have very little impact on his popularity.

While sitting for a portrait, FDR, who served as president during the great depression and World War II, complained of severe pain in the back of his head, he then slumped forward and was carried to his bed. He was pronounced dead. The cause of his death was from a massive stroke.

This brings me joy, to know that even back in the 1930’s, people with disabilities played an integral part of history. In Australia, we have seen our first female Prime Minister, and America, their first African American President; and it’s nice to think that perhaps FDR had a hand in leading the way for minorities in powerful positions.

To read more about FDR’s life, as written by his grandson Curtis Roosevelt in 1998, click here: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/08/05/opinion/05iht-edcurl.t.html




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