At the urging of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, John F. Kennedy made intellectual disabilities a priority for his new administration. Before his inauguration, he created a transition task force and once in office, he followed its recommendation to establish the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Still in existence today, the institute was charged with conducting and supporting research on intellectual disabilities as well as all aspects of maternal and child health and human development.
Read more about JFK and People with Intellectual Disabilities on the Kennedy Library website.
Image: 24 October 1963 Bill Signing, H. R. 7544, Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments of 1963. President Kennedy hands signing pen to Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Rare Footage of FDR in his Wheelchair
While doing research at the National Archives in College Park, MD, Ray Begovich recently stumbled upon a film showing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair.
While we can’t state definitively that this is the earliest or only existing footage of FDR being pushed in a wheelchair, it is very rare. It’s a great example of how researchers can explore, discover, and learn from our holdings here at the National Archives.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio, in 1921, at the age of 39. The disease resulted in paralysis of both of his legs. Although FDR’s disability did not directly interfere with his role as President, his use of a wheelchair was concealed when he was in the public eye.
The film, shown here, captures President Roosevelt on a visit to Pearl Harbor descending a ramp on the USS Baltimore. He appears to be in a wheelchair, though the chair is obstructed by the ramp. 7/30/44. The 8-second clip starts around 7:35 minutes.
Helen Keller was born on this day, June 27, 1880.
Helen Keller wrote letters to eight U.S. Presidents, from Theodore Roosevelt through Lyndon B. Johnson, on behalf of her work for the disabilities community. You can find more Presidential records featuring Helen Keller here.
Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller (both far left) and others in Martha’s Vineyard. 8/25/54.
George H.W. Bush visits the life-size sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt seated in a wheelchair at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The FDR Memorial was first dedicated on May 2, 1997. Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin had designed the memorial with special attention to accessibility, however, the original design did not include a statue of FDR in a wheelchair. The 32nd President had used one after his legs were paralyzed from polio in 1921.
Advocates for the disabled protested that there should be an accurate depiction of FDR. A statue of FDR in a wheelchair would, they argued, increase awareness of disability history and of the accomplishments of people with disabilities.
President Clinton agreed, and sent legislation to Congress to modify the memorial with a sculpture of FDR in his wheelchair. The statue was unveiled in January 2001, and now greets visitors at the entrance to the FDR Memorial.
Photo: George H.W. Bush, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, advocates for the disabled Michael Deland and Alan Reich, and other dignitaries visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. 2/12/03.
January 3, 1938 - The March of Dimes is established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
FDR contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39, and was paralyzed from the waist down. For the rest of his life, FDR was committed to finding a way to rehabilitate himself as well as others afflicted with infantile paralysis.
In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. To increase awareness of the campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.”
Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised 18.9 million dollars for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Ultimately, the March of Dimes (as the National Foundation became known) financially supported the research and development of a polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, eradicating the disease throughout most of the world by the 1960s.
Pictured: FDR’s 1936 Ford Phaeton featured hand controls that enabled him to drive without the use of his legs.
FDR’s Accessibility Designs
The FDR Library was conceived and built under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s direction during 1939-41.
Because a 1921 attack of polio had left Roosevelt paralyzed from the waist down, FDR primarily used personally-designed wheelchairs for daily mobility. Since he intended to personally and regularly use the vast collection of papers and manuscripts housed in the archives at the Library, he made sure the storage area aisles were built wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair.
He also personally designed the document storage boxes initially used to house his papers. To enable his own lap-top style reading while in the storage areas, a special box type was created that could lie flat on the shelf, open in a clam-shell fashion, and act as a sort of paper tray. Read More
Pictured, an archivist in the FDR Library archival stacks, circa 1950. The document boxes were designed by FDR.
"This is an immensely important day — a day that belongs to all of you…across the breadth of this nation are 43 million Americans with disabilities. You have made this happen.
-George H.W. Bush
Remarks by the President during the signing of the ADA, 7/26/90
Twenty-two years ago today, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The ADA was the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. It was a collaborative effort of Democrats, Republicans, the legislative and the executive branches, federal and state agencies, and people with and without disabilities.
-from the Bush Library
This week in history, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed. Yesterday, we asked which President established the first major legislation to provide programs for intellectual disabilities.
The answer is John F. Kennedy, with strong support from his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The Kennedy family had a personal connection to the issue. The president’s sister Rosemary, 16 months his junior, was born with intellectual disabilities.
TODAY’S QUESTION: Which President addressed Congress with these words: “Disabled Americans must become full partners in America’s opportunity society?”
Pictured: John F. Kennedy hands Eunice Kennedy Shriver the signing pen after signing the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments of 1963.
Franklin D. Roosevelt with Fala and Ruthie Bie in Hyde Park, New York, 1941 One of the few photographs of Roosevelt in his wheelchair.
Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted infantile paralysis, more commonly known as polio, in 1921 when he was thirty-nine years old. After several years of rehabilitation, he returned to politics. Concerned his disability would be used against him in the political arena, Roosevelt was reluctant to be photographed or filmed in situations that highlighted his disability.
This week in history, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed. To honor the anniversary, The U.S. National Archives has created a space to explore disability history through Presidential records. Throughout the week, we’ll be featuring records and posting questions to explore disability history.
This week in history, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed. It was a civil rights benchmark intended to make American society universally accessible for people with disabilities.
To honor the anniversary, The U.S. National Archives has created a space to explore disability history through Presidential records. Throughout the week, we’ll be featuring records and posting questions to explore disability history.
Do you know which President established the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now the March of Dimes? Find out here!
Photo: President George Bush signs into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 at the White House. L to R, sitting: Evan Kemp, Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Justin Dart, Chairman, President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. L to R, standing: Rev. Harold Wilke and Swift Parrino, Chairperson, National Council on Disability. 7/26/1990