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Media Talk: Responses to Ad from Clinton Campaign from Disabled People

On September 20, 2016, the Clinton campaign debuted a new ad featuring Nyle DiMarco, a Deaf activist, model, and actor, in American Sign Language asking people to vote. Since the video mentioned people with disabilities, here are a few responses to the video by disabled people collected by the Disability Visibility Project™. These responses are not critiques of the candidate, but are focused on the messages and framing of disabled people from the ad.

The last response talks about two ads for the Clinton campaign by Nyle DiMarco and Anastasia Somoza (see below).


Emily Ladau

There is power in the visibility of disabled celebrities in the media in general, and even more so when they’re using their renown to be a positive social force by encouraging people to exercise their right to vote. While Nyle’s ad could possibly evoke a pity reaction in viewers, I truly think it’s much more likely his message will encourage self-reflection and aid in capturing much-needed attention from voters both with and without disabilities. I believe the ad will make people who are nondisabled stop to think, at least for a moment, about the critical value of including disability as a key issue in the election.

Joel Chapman

Who is this video speaking to? The disabled population? Able bodied voters? I bring this up because I don’t feel like I’m the target, though maybe I was intended to be…I think a lot of the disabled community actually does have a voice, so I’m not sure I agree with the silent oppressed model this ad highlights. I do believe the disabled community is marginalized in certain areas — some have to work twice as hard and travel twice as long to get to destinations, some have to prove their capabilities as employees and start in a place of perceived inability (“opt-in competence,” if you will). But to blanket the entire disabled community as voiceless is not accurate.

Perhaps this is speaking more to able bodied voters than disabled ones. That might be a little problematic and doesn’t present disability issues in a super nuanced light, but maybe that’s ok. The Clinton campaign is making it clear that disability is a priority, and that in itself is great and unlike any other candidate… In short, there are of course issues with this, as there are with anything boiled down to 51 seconds, but it’s impactful, is starting a positive dialogue, and shows the Clinton campaign’s dedication to the issue. Now, given varied and massive feedback, they can start down a path of real change for the disabled community.

Clark Matthews

I think the most encouraging message is that this isn’t the campaign’s ONE and ONLY video to address disability issues, featuring disabled voices – it’s just the latest. I might not agree with everything this ad has to say but you know what? I shouldn’t have to! The disability community is way too diverse to have one 30 second spot be all things to all people – making many different videos with many different messages is a much better reflection of the reality that there are many different ways to live and think about disability. It’s a good trend that I hope to see expand in 2020 and beyond.

Christine Jensen

…he makes us sound like babies. And oh poor disabled people can’t travel? I am deaf and disabled due to a brain tumor and complications of that. How about we touch on the employers [sic] part in hiring disabled, accessibility, assistive technology, wages for disabled, medical coverage, housing etc so that we can get to work. At first I was proud of Nyle for his work to raise awareness of deaf/Deaf/HOH, but now it seems the prettiness of him has worn off. Maybe he can help children by raising awareness of ASL importance but this did nothing but make me want to distance myself from him. If a person has to tell me what they are going to do for me because I can’t see the ‘good’ in them myself, well I better just move on. I have long since decided to focus on state level legislature to accomplish these things. Overall the Democratic Party usually has our best interests at heart but more and more I feel they just say it to get votes from us.


The only thing that I have against it is that it seems to me that he asking for people to vote on behalf of the disabled, instead of asking for the disabled vote. I feel that he should address the disabled community itself. However, I still consider this progress. I don’t remember disability being discussed at all in the last election, but I was still in middle school. Maybe I just didn’t follow the previous election closely enough. I’m not even old enough to vote, and I don’t feel as though I have the knowledge to validate any political opinions. I felt like she was trying to be positive about disability, but I also felt slightly insulted for reasons that I can’t fully articulate.

Gary Thornsberry

Of the several things that affect us people with disabilities why one of the two examples that you give is to travel. Yes that’s true but, there are many more basic needs that are not being filled. And in several cases it’s not that we do not have the ability to work it is that employers are allowed to make work environments inaccessible and to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. Aside from that the person that is representing in this video all people with disability happens to be a Young attractive White male…Intersectionality is the point. I think that this ad attempted to put a “normal face” on disability or a “neutral face” on disability. And I’m not just talking about intersectionality as it pertains to feminism but also it seems as if this ad speaks almost specifically to one specific “known” or “acceptable” or “approachable” group within our community. Disability is not one race it is not one gender it is not one sexuality it is not one class it is not one face and it is not one voice. And that voice knows that it is not heard it doesn’t need to be reminded that it is overlooked, we people with disabilities do not need to be reminded that we overlooked! We know.

Lauren Storck

Wording unfortunate–have to wonder who created the English script and then did the Captioning – not first time he is in hot water so to speak. Giving them benefit of doubt, they probably meant to say we ARE able and need proper resources, funding, understanding. As far as we know, Hilary Clinton is the ONLY candidate for pres (or indeed any for congress) who has had a Live Event with Live Captioning (her streamed speech in Florida other day). Kudos! Actions speak louder than words. Captions Capture Votes! ‪

Jeff Spitzer-Resnick

This is the first time a Presidential candidate has had a captioned signed ad promoting inclusion and employment for disabilities. There has never been a Presidential candidate that has proposed eliminating the subminimum wage and repeatedly talked about the need to improve employment for people with disabilities. This is a very big deal. I wrote this when she first started discussing these issues earlier in her campaign.

Janine Bertram

First let me disclose that I flat out ‪#RollWithHer. In the overall campaign, it is wonderful and affirming to have a presidential candidate address disability issues with frequency. I was thrilled with the promises to support the Disability Integration Act and end sub minimum wage for people with disabilities…However I was appalled at the paternalism in this ad. Because we are often ignored, forgotten, hid behind the potted palms does not mean we do not have a voice, a movement and strong,articulate leaders. Because some speak in ASL or other languages does not mean the deaf community has no voice..they take powerful cutting edge positions and make progress. We need to voice our opposition to paternalism to leading campaign workers and stop this sort of messaging. There are elements in society that will not recognize that there is a disability rights and justice movement. They use that ignorance to speak for us. It is dangerous.

Gregg Beratan

To me the ad is a play to the pity response of nondisabled voters. The second line of the video is “And keep scrolling past if you want, we’re used to being ignored,” a statement saying that disabled people are used to being ignored on its own would be a statement of fact, but starting with the insincere “keep scrolling past if you want” reads as call for sympathy. The ad then says there are many disabled people “without a voice” This is a portrayal we have had to deal with for a long time. This image of voiceless disabled people is a large part of why we we have been ignored for so long. Then the ad says: “many [disabled people] don’t have the ability to work, to travel or to do countless things”, if this had been followed by statement about inaccessibility or the barriers that prevent disabled people from doing many things it would have been fine, but left on its own the the statements use of ability locates the lack of ability in disabled people. It plays to all the traditional medical model understandings of disability as both individual deficit and pitiable. I welcome the Clinton campaign using disabled voices like DiMarco, but this doesn’t serve the disability community well.

Josh Loebner

Legitimacy, credibility, representation and ultimately activation all powerfully come together in this spot. Disability has not had this much of a presence in politics since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act 26 years ago. We are in the middle of a historic tipping point of portrayals and inclusion of people with disabilities in advertising and media in general. Nyle DiMarco weaves a narrative that able viewers may be learning for the first time – that many people with disability consider themselves collectively part of a larger, underrepresented minority group. In that short span of time he was able to convey reasons for political support such as basic needs including ability to work that many take for granted. I’m OK with Nyle representing the disability community to able audiences, BUT I would also like to see him, or other PWDs in ads directly encourage the disability community to vote. Never before has the disability community been this connected, and had this much momentum with media coverage. That said, the coverage and voice needs to continue to come from people with disabilities to our community and to broader audiences. The narratives need to be challenging and dig deep into more complex and difficult discussions. The best advertising, political or otherwise, invites conversation, passion and loyalty. For me, this has all three…#imwithher

Sam de Leve

These ads [by DiMarco and the one below by Anastasia Somoza] illustrate that distinction in disability-related media between green lighting, casting and writing, and how media can get one right while being disappointing on others.

These ads are good for two reasons: the fact that they exist in the first place (the Clinton campaign greenlit, produced, and aired ads targeting disability issues) and the fact that both feature actual disabled people (casting). Meanwhile, I find the rhetoric disappointing: Nyle’s ad, for instance, traffics in this “disabled people as voiceless” language I don’t love, for instance, and my impression is that the writing is intended for a nondisabled audience, perhaps those with an interest in disability issues like nondisabled parents of disabled people. So rather than condemn these as overall “meh” or “NOPE” based on the rhetoric, I celebrate the greenlighting and casting of these ads, but we will see better writing in the future.

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