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Dan Habib on parenting - and advocating - for people with disabilities in Concord

  • Samuel Habib interviewed the top candidates for governor and Congress about six main issues that affect the disability community prior to the Nov. 3 election in 2020. Courtesy

Published: 7/30/2021 5:03:24 PM

On Capitol Close Up on WKXL, former Concord Congressman Paul Hodes interviewed Dan Habib, the creator of award-winning documentary films on disabilities that have been nominated for multiple Emmy awards, translated into 17 languages, and used worldwide to support disability rights. Dan's son Samuel has a serious disability and lives in a wheelchair. So what has it been like parenting a child with a disability in Concord? 

“Concord has actually done a really nice job with inclusion,” Habib says. “But you always have to push ahead; there’s always more work to do.”

 

(Note: Habib was previously the photo editor for the Monitor and his son Samuel has also been a Monitor intern.)

 

Paul Hodes: What originally led you to the Monitor and to living in Concord? 

Dan Habib: The Monitor was one of the places I dropped off my portfolio in the summer of ‘87. They called back and said we need someone to start work immediately.  It was a week before the primary.  It was wild. One of my first assignments was Al Haig. He came out of an elevator somewhere in Manchester, and I snapped a picture of him. He said, “if you take one more picture, I’ll punch you in the nose.” So I just kind of shrugged and then he started laughing and said “take as many as you want.” It turned out to be a blast.

PH: Your son Samuel lives with you. Samuel has a severe disability. What has it been like raising him in Concord?

DH: For my first 35 years, I didn't have a lot of contact with disability. I didn't really understand the incredible ableism of our society, how much stigma there is against people with disabilities.  You just have to find a way to adapt. You don't have a choice.

The most important thing to us is that Samuel feels like he belongs: in our family, in our community of Concord, in our neighborhood here on Roger Avenue, and most certainly in his local neighborhood school. 

Thankfully we live near Beaver Meadow School, one of only a handful of elementary schools that was physically accessible to a wheelchair user at the time. Having Sam fully included in school was the key thing.  He could have friends, learn the regular education curriculum, work toward a diploma. As he got older, we started seeing the potential for relationships, the potential for work, the potential for higher education.

PH: Have you been able to find support here in terms of organizations, political institutions, and other institutions in the community?

DH: Concord has actually done a really nice job with inclusion.  The school was ready to include him in the regular classroom with his peers, which was great. But you always have to push, and there’s a lot more that can be done locally but also nationally.  I was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities and there are tremendous opportunities at the federal level to improve lives.

Locally, Samuel has done his own testifying before the City Council.  He feels very passionately about accessibility in the community and is frustrated that the bleachers at Memorial Field are really poorly designed for wheelchairs.

PH: Samuel met Joe Biden on the campaign trail?

DH: Yeah, Samuel met him and asked “how will you support an inclusive education?” What I liked is that Joe really focused his attention a hundred percent on Samuel. But he also did something that was a little bit out of line – he started stroking Samuel’s face. And Sam was a 20-year-old man.  We did a short two-minute video of it and it kind of went viral and the disability community blew up over it.  But it became a teaching moment and a growth moment for Joe Biden – and the country – about disability etiquette.

PH: You and Samuel are now working on a film together? 

DH: We’re doing a documentary in which we show his transition to adulthood while he reaches out to remarkable people in the country who also experienced disability about their transition to adulthood. He's done nine interviews with incredible people. 

PH: Are you mostly focusing on filmmaking now?

DH: At least half of my work is not filmmaking. I do a lot of educational work and outreach.  That takes a lot of planning and a lot of fundraising. The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation Endowment for Health has supported my work, and that helps a lot.

PH: What does the future hold in store for your family here in Concord? 

DH: We’ve hoped that Sam may be able to live completely apart from us in his own home or apartment, maybe in downtown Concord. Since his health needs a lot of support, with help from the funding that comes through Adult Services in New Hampshire, we’ve been able to build up a team. For now, we’ve built an addition onto our garage here in Concord, so he's got his own independent space. Overall, my biggest hope is that Sam remains healthy and happy. And his biggest goal right now is to find a girlfriend. So I'm rooting for that.

Editor’s note: This article originated stated that Samuel Habib served on the planning committee for downtown Concord and the whole renovation of downtown Concord. His mother, Betsy McNamara, served on that committee.




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