If you think that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only United States president with a disability, think again. Our nation has had a distinguished line of presidents with a variety of visible and non-visible disabilities, from epilepsy to hearing impairments to learning disabilities.
For most of these men, speaking publicly about their disability was discouraged during their lifetime.1 Today, we honor them for overcoming the challenges they faced as individuals with disabilities and for leading and serving our country.2
- William Jefferson Clinton, 1946- (hearing impairment) 42nd President of the United States (1992-2000); wears hearing aids.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890-1969 (learning disability) 34th President of the United States (1953-1960); leader of the victorious Allied forces in Europe during World War II.
- Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826 (learning disability) 3rd President of the United States (1801-1809); author of the Declaration of Independence; remembered as a great president, a diplomat, political thinker, and founder of the Democratic Party; reported to have many learning difficulties.
- John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (learning disability, chronic back pain) 35th President of the United States (1960-1963); the youngest man ever elected President and the youngest ever to die in office; won world respect as the leader of the Free World.
- Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865 (major depression) 16th President (1860-1863); suffered from severe, incapacitating, and occasional suicidal depression; also thought to have Marfan Syndrome.
- James Madison, 1751-1836 (epilepsy) 4th President (1809-1817); drafted the Bill of Rights; often referred to as the Father of the Constitution; played a leading role in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where he helped design the checks and balances system that equalizes the roles of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; also created the federal system.
- Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004 (hearing impairment) 40th President of the United States (1980-1988); also served two terms as governor of California; in 1932 became a radio announcer for WOC in Davenport, Iowa and later WHO in Des Moines, Iowa; in 1937 he signed a contract with Warner Brothers and his first film was “Love is on the Air.”
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1882-1945 (polio) 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945); promised to create jobs for the unemployed and gave assistance to those in need; suffered with polio and worked very hard to hide the extent of his disability.
- Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919 (visual impairment) 26th President of the United States (1901-1909); founder of the Progressive Party; an avid boxer, he suffered a severe blow to the head that detached his retina and led to blindness in the affected eye.3
- George Washington, 1732-1799 (learning disability) 1st President of the United States (1789-1797); was unable to spell throughout his life and his grammar usage was very poor; thought to have learning disabilities.
- Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1924 (learning disability) 28th President of the United States (1913-1921); had a stroke toward the end of his term that left him partially paralyzed; known to have a dyslexia; World War I leader awarded Nobel Peace Prize for Versailles Treaty, 1919; domestic reforms included 1914 creation of Federal Reserve.
1. World Biography. (2002). A History of the Presidency – Illness and disability. Available from http://www.presidentprofiles.com/General-Information/A-History-of-the-Presidency-Illness-and-disability.html (back)
2. The Ability Center. (2019). Disability Trivia: Presidents with Disabilities. The Ability Center of Greater Toledo. Available from http://www.abilitycenter.org/disability-culture-and-resources/disability-trivia (back)
3. Conklin, M. (2002, October 7). Teddy Roosevelt’s little-known secret. Chicago Tribune Lifestyles. Available from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2002-10-07/features/0210070158_1_boxing-final-bout-theodore-roosevelt-association (back)