Skip to main content

Assistance for the Disabled (1931)

Program of Assistance for the Crippled

A Radio Address by Franklin Delano Roosevelt

February 18, 1931

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt

I BELIEVE it was announced that I was going to talk today on why it pays to do things for crippled children and, I might add to that, other kinds of cripples–grown-up cripples as well. I want to talk, of course, about the big human side of relieving distress and helping people to get on their feet, but at the same time I think there is another phase of the broad question of looking after cripples to which some people have never given much thought–the financial side. For instance, I am told that there are somewhere between three and four hundred thousand cripples in this country today–I mean cripples who are pretty thoroughly put out of business, who cannot get around, who cannot perform any useful task–people, in other words, most of them children, who have to be looked after by other people. Think of it, three or four hundred thousand people out of our total population. This is a tremendous percentage.

Now let us figure for a minute in simple terms. Suppose for the sake of argument that three hundred thousand people are out of useful work when they grow to be older and that each one of them, if he could work, could produce one thousand dollars’ worth of new products every year. In other words, if the productive value were one thousand dollars a year apiece, three hundred thousand of them would mean three hundred million dollars added to the annual productive capacity of the United States. That is worth thinking about from the purely money end of things. If we could restore every cripple in this country to some kind of useful occupation it would do much to help the general wealth and well-being of the United States.

People know well that restoring one of us cripples–because as some of you know, I walk around with a cane and with the aid of somebody’s arm myself–to useful occupation costs money. Being crippled is not like many other diseases, contagious and otherwise, where the cure can be made in a comparatively short time; not like the medical operation where one goes to the hospital and at the end of a few weeks goes out made over again and ready to resume life. People who are crippled take a long time to be put back on their feet–sometimes years, as we all know. Take it from that angle. Suppose for the sake of argument it costs one thousand dollars a year for a crippled child to be put back on his feet and that it takes five years to do it. The cost to the community–because it has to be community effort in most cases, for most families cannot afford it–is five thousand dollars to put that one individual back on his feet. Remember that most of the cripples can in some shape, manner or form be brought back to useful life. Suppose they are brought back so that at the time they are 20 or 21 they have before them the expectation of a long and useful life, perhaps at least 40 years more. During those 40 years each one of them ought to be able to earn one thousand dollars a year. There is forty thousand dollars added to the country’s wealth, at a cost of only five thousand dollars. So the net saving or profit to the State or country as a whole is thirty-five thousand dollars. That shows it pays from the money point of view, if from no other.

At the present time in the United States, they tell me, there are about thirty thousand new cases every year of people who become crippled for one reason or another. The first thing we are trying to do everywhere is to cut down that number of new cases; and I have a letter from my old friend Daddy Allen, whom a great many people all over the United States know as the man who started the International Society for Crippled Children which has branches in every civilized country of the world. He tells me that work is going on in every State in this Union to prevent people from getting crippled, and he hopes that as a result, within a short time, instead of having thirty thousand cases, we shall be able to cut it down to 20,000. It would be a tremendous saving if by preventive measures we can keep ten thousand children every year from becoming crippled.

Of course, modern medical science is trying to prevent diseases and troubles of all kinds just as much as it is trying to make cures. This calls for better understanding on the part of the people, for better education on the part especially of the parents, for better conditions surrounding the birth of children, better care in the home, and, equally important, prevention of many unnecessary accidents of all kinds–automobile accidents, train accidents, and so on. So the first step is to work for the prevention of crippling. This covers the great advances that have been made in preventing industrial accidents–unnecessary injuries that come to people who are at work not only in factories, but also in the field, in nearly every State of the Union. The United States now is working hard and spending much money to prevent these industrial accidents. They are far too common, but much has been accomplished and more will be accomplished in the years to come.

Now for the second step–the work of finding cripples all over the United States. We in the State of New York have had surveys made not only in the cities, but also in the country districts and even out to the remote farms that are not reached by R.F.D. carriers. We have had surveys made and have found literally thousands of children and grown-ups who were crippled and had no medical care of the right kind. There are probably today not only hidden away in the big cities, but also in the agricultural and mountainous parts of the United States, other thousands and thousands of crippled children who have never had any proper care, who have never been to a doctor, who have never been to a hospital or been looked over to see whether they could be brought back to useful life. That second step of finding the cripples is gradually being carried out.

Then the third step–the matter of diagnosing what the trouble is. This step is primarily for the doctors; and yet it is true that our good doctors–even the general practitioners–cannot in many cases consider themselves experienced in what is really orthopedic work. In other words, the average practitioner has to go to a specialist when it comes to treating certain types of patients. All over the United States we are establishing, more and more, clinics run by cities, schools, counties or the State, clinics that are within reasonable travel distance of every home, clinics to which the crippled children can be taken. After they have become crippled or after the people in search of them have found them they are taken to the clinic and the case is diagnosed. Great strides have been made in the past few years in providing facilities for the operations that are essential in some cases. But the medical profession is also realizing that many operations can be avoided through a system of plaster casts, massage exercise and other forms of treatment. The main point is to get the case properly diagnosed by the right kind of doctor in the first instance. Then comes the treatment.

The next medical step, which up to this time has not been developed far in this country, is “after care.” After the cause of the trouble is known and the first remedies for it have been applied and the child is able to go home, the treatment must not stop; the parents must be taught what to do. Visiting nurses go in occasionally to see how the child is getting on, and furthermore we are developing new methods by which “after care” is being given in schools for crippled children. We do not want to take the children away from their education, of course, and many schools are putting in special facilities for crippled children where along with their education they can be given the right kind of medical treatment. The point to remember is that the overwhelming majority of children who become crippled can with proper treatment be restored to a useful, active life in the community. It seems to me from somewhat wide experience not only of my own, but of other people, the average cripple in this country has about the finest natural disposition of anyone in the community. There is something that comes to crippled children that gives to them happier, better dispositions. They are seldom cross, they are seldom fretful; we nearly always find them ready to cooperate; we find that they turn out well as scholars and that they are ready to assist in every way in the treatment provided for them.

I want to repeat that we owe to every crippled child in the United States a chance to come back, not merely from the big, broad point of view of humanity. I want to emphasize again that by restoring all of these tens of thousands of children to useful, normal lives, we shall be doing a fine thing, carrying out a great objective for the Nation. I know that we shall have your cooperation. From you who are crippled and you who are absolutely normal we shall have help in furthering this great purpose; we must search out the cripples from every nook and corner of the land; we must do through education everything possible to prevent crippling; we must provide the right medical care; we must spread “after care” to the homes throughout the land.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to say these few words today. We are enlisted in a great cause, one of the greatest causes of humanity that exists in America today.

Source: New Deal Network: Reprinted in The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 1, 1928-32, (New York City: Random House, 1938), p. 334.