University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways you can participate.

Opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University.










The Myth of a Secret

by Dylan Self
Military Student Advisor at the University of the Rockies

There is a myth in America surrounding one of the most famous disabled leaders the world has ever known, though facts contradict it. When the Nazis fought for “racial purity” across Europe, it was the wheelchair-bound president of the United States who led the Allies’ in their successful defeat of European fascism. Yet even authors writing in reputable journals have fallen victim to this myth. I don’t find fault with authors for passing it along, as anything repeated so often can be highly contagious. But the myth diminishes the respect due to people with disabilities.

The myth I’m referring to says that President Franklin Roosevelt hid his polio-generated disability with the cooperation of the news media. In 1997 Foreign Policy featured an article by Moises Naim in which he claimed the media refrained from showing pictures of FDR in a wheelchair; he compared that restraint to the amount of attention paid to President Clinton’s need to be fork-lifted into Air Force One in 1997 due to a knee injury (Naim 1997/1998). This would be a worthwhile comparison were it true.

Several sources from the 1940s and 1950s demonstrate that Roosevelt’s condition was widely known. Historians such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Frank Friedel wrote about the presidency during the 1950s and their accounts treated the president’s physical impediment matter-of-factly; treating the issue as if all well-informed people had known the basics of his condition for some time (Clausen 2005).

Helena Crandall, a school teacher from Vancouver, Washington, wrote many letters to the White House during Roosevelt’s presidency, in which she provided advice for wheelchair designs and other forms of assistance to the president and First Lady. In one of her letters, she attempted to use the president’s disability to reconcile her own when she wrote, “If these pictures of wheelchairs can give you an idea for something like or better for Mr. Roosevelt’s comfort, then my four years of ‘not walking’ will not have been wasted . . . these chairs give me my freedom and much happiness and I only wish to perhaps help someone else” (Nielsen 2013). Letters such as this, combined with the ramps which the Secret Service had constructed all over the Washington, D.C. (Nielsen 2013), do not suggest a national cover-up while FDR was in office. More likely, there was some historical revisionism over the following decades.

During the Clinton administration, a monument was raised in honor of FRD which, in my opinion, demonstrates this penchant for revisionism. Roosevelt is depicted in a chair with small wheels, rather than a wheelchair. Also, in a nod to the anti-tobacco and anti-fur lobbies, Roosevelt’s trademark cigarette is missing from his hand, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s fur boa is absent as well.

Yes, Roosevelt’s condition was considered private and, as such, it wasn’t splashed on the front pages of newspapers. But people, especially people with disabilities, could tell what was going on. And we shouldn’t hide stories like FDR’s that demonstrate how people with disabilities can overcome their physical limitations to produce wonderful things for their nation and their communities.

The US has come a long way in making opportunities more available to those with disabilities and that is a very good thing. On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibited discrimination and protected the rights of those with disabilities. Its intention was to empower those living with disabilities to partake in the typical facets of American life such as employment, public services, and transportation. The ADA was a great step in achieving the foundations for legal equality to a large swath of individuals who can be marginalized. But let us not allow great people with disabilities such as FDR to be wrapped up in a tidy narrative that undercuts what made them inspirational: they became great in the absence of such a law.

Advancing Online Classroom Accessibility: Universal Instructional Design at Work

by Chadd Spencer
Instructional Designer and Jodie Hemerda, Associate Director of Instructional Design and Academic Quality

As we approach our nation’s day of independence, it serves us well to consider the importance of freedom. The meaning of freedom surrounding the Fourth of July is typically associated with freedom from tyranny and freedom from taxation without representation. Americans also enjoy the freedom to move about, pushing past the social and geographic barriers imposed on citizens of other nations. It is this freedom that sets the stage for the American Dream, which to this day draws immigrants from near and far to the United States.
However, many Americans were blocked from enjoying the basic freedoms that most of us take for granted until the passage and implementation of landmark legislation such as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 508 of the Telecommunications Act (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 2010). Obstacles to access left many disabled Americans feeling unwelcome and unworthy.
In an age transformed by ubiquitous access to information and technology, access needs to extend to the Internet and consumer devices as well. When the ADA was signed on July 26, 1990, the Internet was in its infancy. Today it is the cornerstone of our economy. On the internet, the equivalents of wheelchair ramps, motorized door openers, and accessible drinking fountains in all public buildings have yet to be codified into law. Educational institutions have been at the forefront of advances in ADA-compliant technology, as mandated by other legislative efforts; but it is only through careful attention by corporate, private, and non-profit disability watchdogs that these standards exist. Occasionally image tags are used that allow screen readers, used by those with visual impairments, to “read” an image. Transcripts and closed captioning are increasingly available for YouTube viewers with hearing impairments, though most contain errors that would leave a viewer confused. With a seemingly infinite amount of information on the internet, how can we ensure appropriate and equal access?

Universal Instructional Design at University of the Rockies

In the Department of Assessment and Academic Quality, one of our driving principles is to ensure, through thoughtful design practices, universal access to education for all students. Everyone agrees that the sentiment is noble, but what does it look like in our classrooms? We have taken several concrete steps to address this very question. One of the primary ways that our team has begun to ensure access is through a process known as Universal Instructional Design (UID).

Universal Instructional Design was an idea born from scholars and supported throughout years of research. It is the marriage of proven curriculum design strategy and accessible application. By designing from the beginning in an accessible way, you improve the experience for all users, regardless of their ability. Four core principles form the structure of UID:

  1. Equitable use to ensure every student has equal access.
  2. Flexible use to ensure the learning environment’s structure isn’t so rigidly designed that it excludes certain users.
  3. A simple and intuitive design is required in all areas of the course.
  4. The courses must be tolerant of error and require low physical effort.

(Burgstahler & Cory, 2008, pp. 7-8)

These principles are then reinforced in the curriculum through eight components that underpin our design strategy:

  1. Create a welcoming classroom.
  2. Determine essential components of the course and highlight them.
  3. Communicate clear expectations.
  4. Providing constructive feedback throughout all stages of learning.
  5. Use natural supports.
  6. Considering diverse learning styles and abilities in our curriculum.
  7. Enabling students to demonstrate mastery of material in multiple ways.
  8. Promoting interaction between faculty and students.

(Burgstahler & Cory, 2008, pp. 64-67)

As we implement these components over the coming weeks and months, they will begin to affect the look and feel of our courses. All eCollege content will be converted to clean HTML, which is much more efficient for those utilizing screen readers. All styling will be done through external Cascading Style Sheets, which improves the look, feel, and functionality of the courses in the most accessible and compliant way possible. All internally housed and externally referenced video, audio, and multimedia will be accompanied by transcripts and captions. These and many other strategies will improve the student experience while making it accessible for everyone.

As we at the University of the Rockies adopt and implement Universal Instructional Design, our courses will surpass current expectations and trail blaze freedom for those still encountering barriers.


Burgstahler, S.E., & Cory, C.C. (Eds). (2008). Universal design in higher education from principles to practice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Press.
Clausen, Christopher. (2005). The President and the Wheelchair. The Wilson Quarterly, 29 (3).

Naim, Moises. (Winter 1997/1998.) Clinton's Foreign Policy: A Victim of Globalization? Foreign Policy, (109).

Nielsen, Kim E. (January 2013). Memorializing FDR. OAH Magazine of History, 27 (1).

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Revised ADA Regulations Implementing Title II and Title III. (2010, January 1). 2010 ADA regulations. Retrieved from

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