Four-year-old Hannah McFadden, an Albanian immigrant born with a leg deformity, didn’t need her mother to explain the significance of Wednesday’s unveiling of a statue depicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair.
“It means people on crutches and in a wheelchair can do anything,” said Hannah, sporting hot-pink crutches for the ceremony in which President Clinton dedicated the statue.
Disabled groups have long advocated the addition to the Roosevelt memorial, which spans 7.5 acres near the Potomac River. The massive monument features waterfalls, shade trees and another sculpture of the president who led the country through the Great Depression and World War II.
The bronze sculpture, depicting Roosevelt in his self-designed combination kitchen stool-commercial wheelchair, sits at the park’s entrance as a prologue to the chronological story of the Roosevelt years.
“It is grand and beautiful, all right, but it is so accessible in a way that, I think, would have pleased President Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt,” Clinton said.
Advocates for the disabled objected strongly when the memorial opened 3 1/2 years ago with its centerpiece FDR statue only hinting at Roosevelt’s polio affliction. It shows a cape-covered Roosevelt in a straight chair with two tiny wheels.
Starting with $378.50 from a bake sale at a New Jersey school, the National Organization on Disability and other groups led an effort to build a new statue. They eventually raised $1.65 million.
Roosevelt family members were apprehensive about showing him in a wheelchair, because he tried to always conceal his disability. They have since changed their minds, convinced that today he would be a great advocate for the disabled.