Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Warm Springs, GA and Changing Attitudes

What many people today do not know is the role that Franklin Roosevelt played in changing the attitudes of people towards those with disabilities.  We didn't know much of that ourselves until yesterday.

Yesterday, during a visit to Georgia, my husband and I toured the "Little White House" and the institution that Franklin Roosevelt purchased so that those with polio could obtain low cost treatment including physical therapy in the warm springs of the area.  We saw the (now empty) pools where Roosevelt swam and socialized with his fellow polio patients, and the cafeteria where he sponsored annual Thanksgiving dinners.  Even as President he came to Warm Springs to recharge, and died there on April 12, 1945.

It was sobering to stand in the bedroom where he passed away from a stroke.

The "polios" were "his people" and Franklin Roosevelt could not do enough for them.

What people don't realize also is that by befriending many of the natives in the Warm Springs area, Roosevelt saw what needed to be done during the depression.  Roosevelt led initiatives that lead to rural electrification and research that led to better farming practices.  And, by starting the March of Dimes, Roosevelt helped to fund the research that lead to the modern polio vaccines.

Roosevelt also designed early hand controls on automobiles.  His hand-controlled automobile is on exhibit at Warm Springs.

What people also don't realize is why Roosevelt had to purchase what became the Roosevelt Institute.  People were so deathly afraid of polio that its victims (who were called "polios"-the ultimate in the person being the disability) were little more than outcasts.   So when Roosevelt coming to Warm Springs led to other polios coming, the nondisabled guests fled.  If Roosevelt had not purchased what had been the Meriweather Hotel, it would have closed.

Roosevelt fought and changed attitudes towards polio and polios but during his public appearances, to his dying day, he had to disguise the fact that he could not walk or stand without assistance.  This would be unheard of today when using a wheelchair is a method of mobility, not a badge of shame.

This institution is now owned by the State of Georgia.  While treatment of polio is not its primary objective anymore, it treats people with many physical disabilities, including spinal cord injuries.

Will there ever be a "Warm Springs" for people with autism?  Who knows what the future will bring.

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