This year the Clinton campaign featured a number of people with disabilities in their ads (here and here for example)— quite possibly more than any candidate during any Presidential election. In the most recent disability-related ad, “The Right Thing,” the 30-second spot features Jennifer Kohn, a parent of an autistic person.
For this second DVP Media Talk blog post, here are some responses to the ad by disabled people (including a few parents of disabled people to mix things up).
While the ad is centered on a parent’s story, disabled perspectives are important to explore since there is a historical lack of representation of actually disabled people in media.
These critiques are not attacks on the people featured in the video but rather commentary about the framing and messaging of the ad itself. Nor are they attacks on the candidate Hillary Clinton.
I think the ad shows the usual misconception the media has about disabilities and disabled people: that a non-disabled person speaking for us is always better. I also think that the ad is pity porn. Trump is bad for disabilities, for many reasons. The making fun of a journalist is awful and gross, but it is what way too many people do all the time, and most people laugh. Jon Stewart did, Ricky Gervais did. The difference is that they didn’t singled out one person.
I have mixed feelings about these ads. On the one way, I applaud the Clinton campaign for highlighting disability–and striking a stark contrast between Clinton’s and Trump’s attitudes towards disability–but on the other, I’m tired of the constant use of parents speaking for disabled people, especially when our voices are constantly being drowned out by those of parent advocates.
Are the ads perfect? No. Are her policies perfect? No. Are women standing up for their children and grandchildren the likely swing voters who can prevent a regime that will cause a lot of unnecessary suffering and death in the disability community and, taking Mr. Trump at his word, do long-term damage to our political system? Yes. This is a very good thing for us. The sensible thing to do on our part is to first do what we can to help her get elected and then hold her feet to the fire on substantive disability issues. Let’s deal with the existential threat before we try to optimize.
I have no strong feelings about this ad.
On one hand, it is frustrating that the young man in the video doesn’t get the chance to speak for himself.
It’s also frustrating that they’re talking about the making fun of reporter thing, when the real reason her son can’t live in Trumpworld is because of the end of the preexisting conditions requirement, rolling back of SSDI, and many other vital support programs.
On the other hand, the mother was remarkably not awful, in my opinion. She doesn’t talk about her son as a burden. She seems to genuinely love him and want what’s best for him. That’s important.
And on the other other hand, I recognize going deep in policy in a 30 second political ad isn’t really possible.
This is an issue that transcends political party and electoral politics. Politicians, universities/colleges, charities, service providers and more will use disabled people as it is convenient to furthering their interests, which includes the interests they’ve defined for disabled people. Only disabled people who can be depicted as acceptable enough or pitiful enough through an able-bodied lens will be represented. To be acceptable enough means espousing an overcoming disability narrative and modeling productivity in a capitalist system, which will ultimately never understand disabled people as valuable. To be pitiful enough means only to be understood as a tragic object and have access to private resources and support as to not appear “dependent on the system.” Any other ways of showing up in the world for disabled people is a threat to the status quo – and therefore must be marginalized.
I like it. Don’t find it “pity me” at all – seems to educate as well as sell HC of course. Autism is a huge diagnosis these days. broad spectrum. In terms of “using” people with disabilities, probably hard to mention in any political ad these days without criticism of the topic or use of it. Worth doing overall IMHO.
We currently live in Trump world. Sigh. and forgive me, but I would also want to hear from a diverse group of people with diverse disabilities, and if at some point we can shake up what the perspectives of families who have children with disabilities actually look like it could add some much needed richness to the conversation. Just a thought.
I’m tired of Hillary’s ads around disability following the same pattern – a parent of a disabled kid speaking about Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter. We got one or two good ads where it was disabled people speaking for themselves, but the majority has been focused on parents. And sure, Donald Trump mocking a disabled reporter was horrible and an example of Trump’s bigotry. But there are real policy issues at stake here. I would say to the mother in this ad: “The reason your son can’t live under a Trump presidency is because Trump will abolish the Affordable Care Act so that your son can be denied insurance due to a pre-existing condition. And that will literally kill a lot of disabled people.” I mean, come on. Let’s focus on the bigger issues here. Make no mistake, I am a Hillary supporter. But I’d like to see her step her game up, especially since she has a history of helping disabled people access education and health-care. She knows how important policy is for disabled people. So why doesn’t she focus on how Trump’s polices will have a devastating effect on disabled people, instead of repeatedly harping on just one of his countless examples of bigotry? I want to see her do better.
I expected a lot worse. It would be better for ads to feature people with disabilities themselves — like the Nyle DiMarco ad did.
But while this ad plugs in to some narratives of able-bodied people talking for and about people with disabilities, it doesn’t treat people with disabilities completely as pitiable objects. (It comes close, but it doesn’t focus on viewing this young man’s everyday life as pitiable.)
Most of us wish that the body politic understanding of ableism were expanded beyond the obvious egregiousness of bullying. Ableism is often more invisible and nuanced than this. For example, I find that just as many liberals or progressives are ableist and exist in an epistemology of ignorance about ableism (as their conservative counterparts). There is an insensitivity toward it, and the common reaction when it is pointed out is denial and hostility toward disabled people.
Interestingly, rarely are nondisableds willing to come from a place of critical doubt and even momentarily consider that they may in fact be ableist.
If a disabled person points it out, we are likely met with tired pathologizing, e.g., we are angry because we aren’t typical bodied, we haven’t adjusted to having a disability, we necessarily need therapy because the nondisabled view disability as necessarily bad.
Moreover, much of ableism is the benevolent variety, which arises from the amalgamation of the charitable, medical, and economic model.
Then, there is the epistemic injustice that disabled people must endure, i.e., our perspectives are dismissed. We are not respected as legitimate knowers or experts with situated knowledge. In such instances, the nondisabled will feel emboldened–through epistemic excesses and arrogance–to educate us about disability. This happened to me recently when an educator decided that she knew more about disability than I even though she hadn’t the slightest inkling of disability theory. This has also occurred ad nauseum with nondisabled parents of children with disabilities or with people who have mild disabilities and feel that their perspectives on assisted suicide are as valid and researched as people with severe disabilities who are in immediate danger of being coerced into suicide.
This ad isn’t the worst thing in the world, and somewhat informative about a trait that some autistic people exhibit. From a disability rights standpoint, that’s probably the best thing I can say about it. Otherwise, the ad refrains from talking about real issues, and stoops to viewing people with disabilities as needing “defending.”
I’m still waiting on Trump to give his plan on how he can help the disabled population. As far as I know, he hasn’t done squat. Hillary using parent focused advertising isn’t perfect by any means, but she seems to be doing a better job than her running mate.
I liked the ad. The mother tries to educate and inform the audience about autism. She promotes acceptance, rather than appealing for pity.
However, I don’t like that the ad is only from her perspective. Parents, no matter how close they are to their child, have not actually experienced disability. We should have heard from the autistic man himself. These ads should give disabled people a chance to speak for themselves. I’m tired of hearing from parents and caregivers, instead of the disabled community.
I’m really glad disabled people are being mentioned and seen in this election cycle, however it’s a bit frustrating that most of the representation verges on inspiration porn at the very least. I don’t want people to vote for Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump picks on people who look like me, because that continues to turn me, and people like me into a charity case. I want people to think about the issues and vote for Hillary Clinton because they think she will do good for the country. I want my voice to count in a real way, not as some symbol of “if you need more proof Donald Trump is horrible, remember that he makes fun of disabled people, and you’re not supposed to do that.” I want real change, and I want disabled to have real opportunities. I want to focus on education, healthcare, housing, and employment for all, including disabled people, I don’t want to focus on seeing disabled people being painted as defenseless.
Why is “the face” of a disabled person always the parent or guardian? Why do they have to make it look like disabled cant speak for them selves? Why are people with autism only ever portrayed as children and never adults? They are just exploiting the imagery of disability in a completely fake way and I am sick of it. The ad ambiguously claims that Clinton will do the “right things” and that it some how magically is going to help the disabled community. What “right things” is she going to do? She is against choice when it comes to public schools and shes against charter and private schools, that is extremely harmful to students like the kind that I was. This ad is nothing but empty platitudes and exploitation for the sake of emotional reasoning. This Jennifer Kohn person says that she’s voting for Clinton and her only reasoning is that Trump offended her. In the process she insults the entire disability community by reinforcing stereotypes and ableism! This ad is nothing more than a PR advertising firms attempt to cram autism into a video because they think it will poll well. This is just blatant pandering and clearly they are not trying to get the actual votes of autistic or disabled people here. Why arnt autistic people important enough for Clinton to speak to directly? Why doesnt she address the community its self instead of pretending to have some right to speak on its behalf? It doesnt seem like she cares about the votes of people who actually have autism, thats extremely dismissive and degrading in its own way.
The ad is wrong.
I do not believe in unnecessary compromise in the representation of autistic people.
This is my response for those in that thread trying to justify allowing the ableism and devoicing in it by saying it was meant for a target voter audience exclusive of me:
So, if Senator Clinton is trying to win the undecided voter who believes that Hispanic immigrants have taken their jobs, should I now accept that Afro-Latinas be stereotyped or marginalized in a campaign ad because she isn’t trying to appeal to me? When every vote counts, you don’t insult Peter to win Paul’s vote. This type of logic is one of the reasons we are not moving forward…The ad could have been done better. Period. The price being asked of the autistic community to bear is one that could determine who defines public policy. Autism Speaks wants institutional settings for autistic people. They want genetic screening for autism, in the same way, said screening is being used to encourage abortion of other disabled infants. Who speaks for autistic people? Autistic people should be speaking for themselves to whatever degree they are able. Obama did several ads with autistic adults that did not use them as props. To go from that to this is not acceptable regardless of who the target audience is. This ad could have been done to appeal to anyone and been done better.
As a parent and spouse of autistics, I want to hear from autistic people on these issues. I want to hear from people who haven’t been put there by Autism Speaks. Let’s hear from the people at the center and not just from parents.
Right now, Clinton is running ads aimed at suburban moderate to conservative white women in swing states. To me, as a pragmatist, that’s how politics works. Her campaign’s polling says there are votes to be gotten there, so she goes and gets it. It’s good politics for her to run those ads now. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t critique the representation politics of the ad, but for me the bigger question is – how do we get white suburban women to care about disability rights issues beyond bullying. We’ve made some progress around “work,” but that often engages in a kind of respectability politics that marginalizes as much as it includes.
That said: Trump is the most ableist presidential candidate in modern history (and possibly ever). Clinton should point that out.
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
I get what the mother is saying about Trump making ableism/stigma worse. And I realize it’s a short ad, trying to compress many messages and emotional sweet spots. But I’d also like to see people of a variety of abilities get similarly emotional about matters like how the ACA and eliminating pre-existing conditions transformed their lives, and how Trump puts that at risk. Because that’s terrifying, to me.