After the recent #CrippingTheMighty hashtag was created in response to what many perceived to be an insensitive and disrespectful article on the site, The Mighty posted that they were interested in feedback. I emailed them the following message in an attempt to provide it:
“I hope your site is paying attention to the many valid criticisms and comments on the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag on Twitter focused around how things been run so far on The Mighty. The lack of disabled representation in your organization is an immense issue which is representative of larger systematic issues which exist in the media landscape today. The difference between your site and other media organizations is that you present yourself as a space for disabled people. However, you have simultaneously provided yet another space for pity party like parenting stories and “inspiration porn” type articles which center the disability narrative around the parents and the effects on said parents of their children’s disabilities or on seeing disabled people as props for inspiration. I understand that these articles get clicks, and that overhead exists, but at the same time, your site needs to decide whether it’s going to live up to the lofty goals that it started with, or if it will bend to the pressures of operating in an industry which is still extremely problematic when it comes to accurate and respectful disabled representation.
I know that people in your organization might be upset about the current bad p.r. , but I think that’s a short-sighted perspective. I see this as a huge opportunity for The Mighty to bring its modus operandi into line with the mission statement that it started with. This isn’t the first time disability advocates have taken issue with the choice to focus on the parent’s narrative rather than the experiences and views of actually disabled people. Things were going to come to a head eventually. Here are some issues that come up again and again:
1. Lack of pay for writers. This is ridiculous. I went through your site in an attempt to determine whether you’re a non-profit or not. Best I can tell, you’re not. I came across a page saying The Mighty was hiring, and it had close to a dozen positions. If you have enough money to hire a bunch of new people, you can figure out how to pay the people who contribute the material which your site relies on to survive. A per word pay rate is pretty standard these days. That would be a great first step, because honestly the current way of doing things comes across as exploitative.
2. Do not censor disabled writers. I read that you had changed language previously with an article from a disabled individual. Simply put: you do not get to define the identity of others. Also: this is incredibly unprofessional. Within the constraints of basic decency, you should publish things the way they were written. You cannot present an article as being written by a person if you have changed parts of it and those changes no longer respect the original views of the author.
3. Shift your focus. So far there have been a lot of articles focused on parents and their experiences. Perpetuation of the tragedy narrative. The idea that disabled people are inherently less and thus their previously assumed potential must be mourned. It’s ridiculous, insulting, and demeaning. These articles decimate any semblance of a safe space for the people you claim to have created The Mighty for.
On Twitter right now there are a huge number of potential writers for your site, advocates who care so deeply about disability rights and education that they give their free time willingly, usually without pay, in order to fight to make things better. They’re tweeting important messages with #CrippingTheMighty about what your site needs to do to win back the people you say you represent and care for. If you treat them with respect, you’ll have a huge number of accurate, respectful articles coming in regularly from writers who know their stuff and care immensely about disability rights. That means paying them, not censoring them, and respecting their voices on the site. I also highly recommend that some of those new hires you’re looking for are disabled. All of this could have been avoided if there were disabled voices on your staff.
You can’t claim to be for us and keep us out at the same time. These things are mutually exclusive. How your organization chooses to move forward is up to them, but I hope you’ll keep all this in mind. Thank you for your time, and have a good day.”
I did receive a very positive email from Megan in response. I will post it if I hear back that The Mighty has no issues with me doing so. Megan made it clear to me that they are intent on listening to the disabled community, and indicated that they plan on implementing changes in the future.
(Edit: I did hear back from Megan who said I could include her response. She also asked that I make it clear that I asked permission to print it.)