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FDR in Wheelchair Statue Requested

March 9, 1998 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government should honor Franklin D. Roosevelt anew, this time with a statue in the wheelchair he used for all his years in office, representatives of the disabled said Monday.

Armed with a new law requiring that the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial near the Potomac River recognize the president’s disability, witnesses made their wishes known at a public hearing called by the National Park Service.

The park service will attempt to reach a consensus on just how the law should be carried out.

But the witnesses repeatedly said a statue to ``Roosevelt-in-a-wheelchair″ should be central to the memorial and not a throwaway gesture that could be ignored at will.

Witnesses, rolling on wheelchairs, using guidedogs and canes, or testifying through sign language interpreters, also stressed that a new statue would serve as an inspiration to a legion of disabled Americans.

``It should be a reminder to all that disability is a natural part of the human experience and that it in no way diminishes a person’s ability to contribute to all parts of American life,″ said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

``I think a statue portraying Franklin Roosevelt using his wheelchair would not be a statue to disability in any way,″ said Harkin who helped write the new law and who is a co-sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. ``It would be a statue to the indomitable human spirit that never gives up, that is always optimistic.″

Harkin said he envisions a wheelchair-riding Roosevelt statue ``at eye level, with that great smile on his face and with the chin thrust up.″

In a letter read for him by another disabled person, Justin Dart, a leader of the ``Roosevelt-in-a-wheelchair″ movement said that a decision to depict the 32nd president’s disability in a mural or base relief instead of a free-standing central statue would be ``neither sufficient or acceptable.″

``A statue will make an impression, it will inspire the able bodied and the disabled alike,″ said Dart, who uses a wheelchair but who was unable to be present in person because of illness. Dart led a group of disabled people at the Roosevelt memorial when it was dedicated last May.

Lawrence Halprin, the designer of the memorial as it stands, told a reporter he is not opposed to inserting a recognition of Roosevelt’s disability.

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``The word `statue’ is not determined yet. But I’m not opposed to doing something,″ he said.

Roosevelt, who never again walked unaided after contracting polio in 1921, did not allow himself to be photographed in a wheelchair and few such photographs exist.

The seven-acre memorial at the Tidal Basin is in the form of four outdoor rooms, each portraying an aspect of the Roosevelt presidency.