June 19, 1996
President William J. Clinton
FDR Memorial Commission
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20502
RE: The Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Memorial
Dear President Clinton:
We represent the Muscular Dystrophy Association's National Task Force on Public Awareness, a voluntary body comprising adults affected by neuromuscular disease which advises MDA on issues of importance to those it serves. We are writing in regard to existing plans for construction of the new $42 million, 7.5 acre FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.
It is our understanding that, as the plans are currently constituted, none of the three proposed statues of FDR would depict him as a person with a disability who used both a wheelchair and braces for the last 24 years of his life, including his four terms as President of the United States. As individuals who take great pride in our identities as people with disabilities and in the accomplishments of President Roosevelt, we feel strongly that any memorial to this great American should reflect the fact that he lived and, indeed, thrived with a disability.
Beyond the debt owed to President Roosevelt for his leadership during some of the most critical periods in our nation's history, Americans with disabilities are indebted to him for fighting to establish the Social Security Act as part of his "New Deal" reforms; to this day, the Act provides critical benefits to millions of Americans with disabilities which greatly improve the quality of their lives. In particular, people with neuromuscular diseases are grateful to him for his seminal work to establish a national voluntary association of Americans dedicated to defeat polio. This group's structure served as an organizational precursor to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the nation's most successful national voluntary health association dedicated, through its national network of more than 230 clinics and worldwide path-breaking research program, to eliminating 40 neuromuscular diseases.
Given his tremendous contributions to the disability community as both a leader and a role model, it is important that any national tribute to FDR recognize his identity as an American with a disability. According to a recent National Organization on Disability/Harris poll, 72 percent of Americans believe that the memorial, supported by taxpayer dollars, should portray FDR with a disability. In an era in which the Americans with Disabilities Act promises to allow all Americans to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of 49 million Americans with disabilities, to purposefully omit the depiction of FDR's disability in this memorial fails to acknowledge the reality of disability as a natural part of the human experience. As an organization that has played a historic role in the education of Americans about the lives and accomplishments of people with disabilities through its public education program and Labor Day Telethon, MDA recognizes the tremendous potential of this monument to educate the public about the talents and abilities of people with disabilities.
In a 1940 address at the University of Pennsylvania, President Roosevelt maintained that, "No man can sever the bonds that unite him to his society simply by averting his eyes." We urge you not to permit our nation and future generations to avert its eyes to the fact of FDR's disability and, thereby, perpetuate a legacy of stigma associated with the disability experience.
On May 23, 1996, in a satellite message to the President's Committee On Employment of People with Disabilities, you stated: "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." Toward this end, we urge you to support a portrayal of FDR's disability in one of the memorial statues.
The Members of the Steering Committee of the
MDA National Task Force on Public Awareness
/s William. Altaffer, Esq.
/s Lori Hinderer
/s Shelley C. Obrand
/s Chris Rosa