Disability activists are split over New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan’s first statewide ad, which features her disabled son.
Hassan, who is locked in a contentious Senate race with Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, describes how her son’s diagnosis with cerebral palsy was one of the main reasons she entered public service.
“Twenty or 30 years earlier, we would have been pressured to put him in an institution,” Hassan says in the ad which features her family and shows her caring for her 27-year-old son at home.
But is the ad empowering? Does it help highlight the needs of the disabled? Or is it exploitative? Is Hassan using her son as a prop?
Disability experts disagree.
Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, has worked with Hassan in the past and praised her for mentioning that her son was put in mainstream education.
“She hit all the right things,” said Decker, who also praised Ayotte's work on disability issues as a senator. “I am sure there are many, many people who see that ad and say, boy, that kid can go to school.”
[Related: A Tenacious Governor Aims for Senate] But Gregg Beratan, co-founder of the nonpartisan disability rights campaign #cripthevote, said he was concerned that Hassan was using her son as a prop.
Beratan said that Hassan's ad is “maybe not different from how other politicians use their families, except she only talks about her disabled child and only in relation to his being disabled.”
He also described the ad as “sort of a variant on inspiration porn, as if using her son's disability to signpost her own goodness.”
Decker said the ad was neither exploitative nor offensive. He pointed out that Hassan has long been active in disability issues, having served on the board of the Disabilities Rights Center in New Hampshire.
“Frankly, we are working to get disability discussions in the election,” Decker said. “We are very, very frustrated that you can go the whole election cycle and disability policy doesn't come up.”
Beratan agreed that it was important for disability to be a part of the public discourse.
“I like seeing politicians talk about disability,” he said. “But they have to be careful about how the do it. Our community isn't just happy for any old mention.”