UNH filmmaker, former ‘Monitor’ photo editor Habib, selected for President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Last modified: 7/17/2014 12:06:24 AM
Dan Habib, a filmmaker with the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability and a former photo editor at the Monitor, has been appointed to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, the White House announced.

The committee functions as an advisory group and “promotes policies and initiatives that support independence and lifelong inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in their respective communities,” according to its website. The White House asked Habib to avoid speaking publicly about the appointment until he is sworn in (most likely in August or September), but he was able to discuss his work on related issues otherwise.

Habib joined the UNH Institute on Disability in 2008, where his work has included Who Cares about Kelsey?, a film about a student in Somersworth and her school’s approach to working through her behavioral challenges, and Restraint and Seclusion: Hear Our Stories, which focuses on the use of restraints as a school disciplinary measure, an issue Habib said disproportionately affects students with disabilities.

Most recently, Habib has worked on films for the School-wide Integrated Framework for Transformation Center, based at the University of Kansas. The center, in partnership with UNH and other institutions, is working to assist schools in being able to more fully integrate all students within the same classroom environment, rather than teaching special education students separately.

Habib said he’s always been driven by a desire to “shine a light on things needing attention” – at first as a journalist, and now as a filmmaker focusing on issues affecting individuals with disabilities.

Initially, Habib’s work focused on others’ lives. That changed when he began to document his son, Samuel, who has cerebral palsy. When Samuel was still a toddler, Habib recalled, a doctor suggested: You have a journalistic background, why not use that to tell your family’s story?

Over the course of several years, Habib chronicled what it was like for his and other families to help their children thrive in school and elsewhere. In particular, Habib focused on “inclusive education” – or a movement to make sure that kids with physical, emotional or behavioral conditions are able to fully participate in general education classrooms and other school activities, “with the proper supports.”

His work culminated in a 2007 documentary called Including Samuel, which has since gone on to receive national and international attention. The bulk of the documentary takes place when Samuel was between 4 and 7 years old, Habib said, but he’s now preparing to begin his freshman year at Concord High School – and has been able to participate in many of the same activities as his peers, thanks to a largely supportive school environment.

As a journalist and as the father of a child with cerebral palsy, Habib said he’s uniquely positioned to give voice to these issues. Even on matters that intimately affect his family, he said, he tries to maintain the standards he learned in the newsroom. In particular, he said, his past career in journalism taught him the “importance of research and telling stories in a balanced way, or else they have no credibility.”

Habib said he continues to be moved by the families who reach out to him about their own experiences raising children with disabilities.

“It has been a challenging experience to tell my own family story,” he said, “but it has opened up doors to tell stories about people all over the country.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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