Compelling portrait of a disabled person who was one of the USA's greatest Presidents

BBC 4 have surpassed themselves with “World War Two: 1945 & The Wheelchair President”. Professor David Reynolds presents a remarkably gripping and informed biography of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, focussing mainly on the final year of his life. It’s a must-see for any politics anorak and is available for the next 20 days here.

FDR very skilfully presented himself to the American public so that they were not fully aware of his disability. When he was seen standing up or walking, he was supported by a mixture of a steel frame around his legs, a podium, a walking cane and/or his strong, tall son. He created the illusion that he could walk. Some years later, I was brought up with footage and photos of the great man such that it took decades for it to sink in that he was paraplegic.

But Professor Reynolds’ programme demonstrates that it was Roosevelt’s immense personal struggle with disability that forged a hugely strong personality which enabled him to lead the salvation of the USA from the Great Depression and, with Churchill, Stalin and, latterly, Harry S Truman, save the world from the Axis powers and lay the foundations of the United Nations.

Movingly, Prof Reynolds also tells how Roosevelt inspired young men, recently wounded and facing a lifetime of disability, by humbly revealing himself to them in his wheelchair, graphically proving that disability was no barrier to becoming the world’s most powerful man.


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