Presidents with Disabilities

People who go through middle school, high school and college learn about past presidents in their history classes. There’s always one thing that is rarely taught in history classes about presidents and that’s educating people about their disabilities.

There were at least eleven presidents that had disabilities. Not many historians would talk about a president having a disability, maybe because it makes a president look weak. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and William Jefferson Clinton are all former presidents who had disabilities. Each of these presidents fought to stay strong and never let their disability bring them down. They didn’t want to show their fellow American citizens that their leader was weak. However, the people who worked in the office with them were often aware and concerned about their disabilities and how it would affect them in serving as president.

George Washington had dyslexia. His grammar wasn’t right whenever he wrote letters to Congressional leaders. It wasn’t a concern, however, because he was the first president and the American public didn’t have anyone to compare him to.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States. He not only served four terms, but he was the first president to have a physical disability. When Roosevelt was 39 years old, he was diagnosed with polio. Polio is a virus that causes paralysis. It is transmitted through contaminated water, food or contact with a person who is infected. Some people believe that Roosevelt was exposed to this virus at a Boy Scout camp in New York. However, the real cause of him being exposed to the virus was when he fell overboard into the icy waters of the Bay of Fundy off his yacht during the summer of 1921. Three days after the incident, Roosevelt started to have issues with his health.

His wife couldn’t bear to see her husband suffer so she contacted a bunch of doctors. She hoped that someone would be able to find the cause of her husband’s illness. One of the doctors said that his earlier diagnosis was incorrect and that he had a blood clot located in the lower spinal cord. The doctor claimed that the distress was caused by spinal lesion. On August 25, 1921, another physician diagnosed FDR with infantile paralysis, aka polio. FDR and his wife were surprised to hear this, because it is uncommon for a middle-aged person to contract polio. His children were heartbroken at first when they saw their father struggling with mobility. Later, they overcame their discomfort and helped their father move around whenever they could. This caused FDR to be in a wheelchair. Even though FDR later regained movement and strength in his arms, he was still unable to walk and had to use a wheelchair.

Our 35th president, John F. Kennedy, had more than one disability while he was in office. Kennedy had scarlet fever, a long-standing gastrointestinal disease, Addison’s disease and chronic back pain. Kennedy started experiencing lower back pain on his lower back while he was an undergraduate student at Harvard University. This was caused by an injury from playing football. In 1940, Kennedy’s back problems were preventing him from the wartime enlistment in the armed forces. Although in 1941, he was influenced by his father’s political word of wisdom to obtain a commission to be in the US Naval Reserve. He had four surgeries to help cure his back issues, yet they all seemed to fail. Kennedy had a form of dyslexia as well, as his use of grammar wasn’t so great.

About Zoe Hernandez: Zoe lives in Meriden, Connecticut. A Quantum® brand ambassador, Zoe attends Abilities Expos and speaks with people about her disability. She is currently enrolled in college and hopes to work in a community one day with people who are just like her. Click here to learn more about Zoe.