When asked, “How many U.S. presidents used wheelchairs?” many of our followers answered that there was only one U.S. president who was wheelchair-bound, but there were actually two. The majority of the public knew that Franklin D. Roosevelt used a wheelchair, but few knew Woodrow Wilson used one as his condition was kept from the public until after his death. In honor of Presidents’ Day, we will cover a few more interesting items about these two presidents in wheelchairs.
32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)
Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was thought to be the first president with a significant physical disability, which he contracted just over a decade before he became president. FDR served for 12 years, while using leg braces and a cane in public, and a modified wheelchair in private. Despite the fears of his advisors, FDR’s disability was never brought up as a problem during his campaign or presidency.
“Franklin’s illness proved a blessing in disguise, for it 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,” described Eleanor Roosevelt in her autobiography.
28th President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson served two terms as president, with the last three years of his second term being spent in a wheelchair due to a massive stroke. Unlike FDR, Woodrow Wilson went into isolation and hid his condition from the public eye while his wife was said to have made many presidential decisions for him. When news of his condition went public, the newspapers expressed the public’s view that he was not fit for presidency; however, there was no mechanism in place to remove him.
When researching these two accounts, we are reminded of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to come. Today, in honor of Presidents’ Day, think about these two wheelchair users and other wheelchair users who have paved the way for users today. Think also about how you can make a difference and make the world more accessible for future wheelchair users.