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Disability Group Raising Funds to Create Rare Statue of FDR in Wheelchair

Roosevelt Island Group Launches Indiegogo Campaign for FDR Memorial
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Michael Bergmann

ROOSEVELT ISLAND — An organization for disabled people in Roosevelt Island wants to spread the word that nothing is impossible for those with disabilities — by commissioning a statue of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that would be one of only a handful in the world to show him using his wheelchair.

The Roosevelt Island Disabled Association started its push on the online fundrasing site Indiegogo in the hopes of raising $37,000 for the planned statue of of the  four-term president who helped pull the nation from the clutches of the Great Depression. They hope to have $300,000 by January 14.

“The idea is to show both disabled and able-bodied people what a disabled person can accomplish in his lifetime,” said Jim Bates, president of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association.

RIDA commissioned sculptor Meredith Bergmann, who designed the Boston Women's Memorial, to create the bronze installation. It will feature President Roosevelt in his wheelchair, extending his hand to a young girl walking with the assistance of crutches and leg braces.

Although President Roosevelt relied on a wheelchair after he was paralyzed by polio in 1921, he was rarely seen using it in public. He was afraid that it would alter people’s perceptions of him and make it more difficult for him to win office, according to historical records.

Now, Bates and others see FDR as a symbol of hope for the disabled community, similar to President Obama’s role in the black community.   

“The African-American community could point to him and say to their children, ‘Look what you can be. There’s nothing that’s impossible.’" Bates said. "We can say that, too."

He estimated that the group still needs to raise another $75,000 to $100,000 to complete the memorial, noting the current campaign would get the association that much closer to its goal. 

Bates and RIDA started working on the project three years ago and have already raised $263,000, primarily through grants approved by the City Council and from the Roosevelt Institute. They have also secured a site for the installation in Southpoint Park near Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on the island’s southern end, the Roosevelt Islander reported Monday. 

The association also hopes to install electronic displays that will tell President Roosevelt’s story and touch on the history of Roosevelt Island, which Bates said has a long and positive record of working with the disabled community.

The $37,000 from the online campaign would go toward studio space and a model for the sculptor until RIDA officially receives the grant money, he explained. So far, the campaign has raised $1,825 through the campaign, with 19 days remaining to donate. 

Bates hopes to have the statue completed and installed by the fall of 2014.