Covid 19 Reflections
- Jun - 29 - 2020
- FDR Memorial Legacy Committee - a project of NCIL
Our nation is grieving. We are grieving the loss of loved ones, the loss of lifestyles we once knew and the loss of our ability to move freely. These changes have taken a toll on our health and well-being. As the nation looks to reopen and implement new rules, we are all eager to return to some sense of normalcy.
Every “normal” year, nearly 25 million people visit the national mall with each memorial receiving their fair share of those visitors. For example, the FDR Memorial, since its opening in 1997, receives over 2.5 million visitors per year. Memorials are an important part of every culture. They shape our personal narratives and our civic education. Family photos of visits to Memorials often show disenchanted youths who then months or years later enthusiastically share in school about their visit.
In the 1990’s construction started in Washington, DC to build a presidential memorial to honor President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was elected president 4 times and led our nation through the Great Depression and World War II. When the Memorial was dedicated in May of 1997, FDR was indeed memorialized but there was no depiction of his disability.
After a multi-year campaign led by a coalition of disability leaders, a statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added to the Memorial in 2001 to ensure that future generations know that FDR led this country and the world from a wheelchair. As eloquently stated by campaign organizer Jim Dickson, “We fought for the statue so that parents of children with disabilities could take pictures of their children and say this is a picture of the first disabled president next to the next disabled president.”
That statue “normalized” disability. Disability happens. It is a normal part of life. Life may look different with disability, but it goes on. There is no more fitting example of that than FDR who became disabled at age 39 in 1921 and went on to be Governor of New York seven years later and then elected four times to be President of the United States. Polio became normal in the US. It happened. It changed lives. People quarantined and towns were shut down. People lived in iron lungs. The same with COVID-19. We now wear masks. We socially distance. We intubate people who were healthy just days ago.
What lessons can we learn from FDR’s experience with pandemic when his normal changed? We know he gave serious thought to removing himself permanently from public life. But, after his time of self-quarantine, he did things quite familiar to all of us. He went back to work – work with his body, his family and to a job.
His wife Eleanor Roosevelt said "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." Many of us in the disability community live this out already every day. Now it is time for all Americans to follow these “Eleanor instructions” for their new normal. Worked well for FDR don’t you think?
“We fought for the statue so that parents of children with disabilities could take pictures of their children and say this is a picture of the first disabled president next to the next disabled president.” Jim Dickson, Co-Founder, FDR Memorial Legacy Committee