Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), also known as FDR, was our 32nd President. He was an immensely popular public figure, being elected to the Presidency four consecutive times. He is still regarded as one of our nation’s greatest leaders. FDR led our nation through some of its greatest upheaval and distress. He came into office during the Great Depression and died still in office near the end of World War II.
But before he was President, at age 39, FDR contracted polio, causing him permanent paralysis from the waist down. Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife, would later say “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."
FDR did not display his physical disability to the world but rather made efforts to conceal his condition. While the public was somewhat aware of his battle with polio, they were in large part unaware of the extent of his disability. It was only ‘behind the scenes’ that FDR was seen as having any sort of ailment. Only two photographs exist (one pictured on the right), of him using a wheelchair, and only one video exists of his method of walking.
FDR was able to walk short distances with the help of metal braces (pictured on left), a cane, and a companion’s arm. But for the most part, FDR used a wheelchair, one in fact, that he custom designed to meet his needs, by converting a dining room chair into a wheelchair. He even included a built-in ash tray. FDR also drove his own car, as evidenced in numerous photos, using hand controls. His living quarters were also, of course, adapted for accessibility.
FDR is a towering American historical figure, and while his disability greatly affected his daily life, it only served to further strengthen his spirit for life as a whole.