The article, Reporting on Disability with Sensitivity, Not Sensationalism by Genevieve Belmaker* in Neiman Reports, is a timely piece. It sweeps through issues in reporting on disability and disabled issues with firm and flawless strokes, taking on perspectives of disability reporting from within the media. The singular glaring inaccuracy in the piece concerns the perspectives exposed in an interview with Mike Porath, founder of The Mighty.
Mike Porath states that he founded The Mighty after his daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease, so it could “serve as a single community where people with disabilities could share their experiences and connect with others.” “We need more stories from the perspective of individuals with disabilities”, he says.
Let’s clarify a few points here:
The Mighty is a site that was started by a parent in 2014, ostensibly to share the experiences of people with disabilities. It has become clear over time, however, that the parent-driven narrative takes front and center on the site, not the perspectives of people who actually have and live with disabilities.
Frustrated with the persistent themes embedded in an “inspiration porn” format and parent-driven stories of disability, Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project, along with numerous other writers with disabilities, started the #CrippingTheMighty Twitter movement in December 2015. This collective voice from the disabled community was strong, telling Mike Porath in no uncertain terms that his site was not portraying stories from the perspective of individuals with disabilities. Rather, it was pandering to the enormous audience of parents of children with disabilities and proponents of exploitative storytelling that uses people with disabilities’ experiences to make themselves feel better about their own lives. Moreover, despite The Mighty being a for-profit site with $2.5 million in venture capital funding, its contributors were not being paid, nor were any of the editors of the site actually people with disabilities.
Porath invited people with disabilities who wanted more change to converse privately with him and his editors rather than continue to publicly post concerns using the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag on Twitter.
Some of the disabled writers and contributors did so, and found that not only were their recommendations ignored, but that they actually were shut out of the private Facebook group for contributors to The Mighty.
“Also crucial is to not group all people with similar disabilities together, assuming how one person’s disability affects their life is universal for all people with the same handicap”, says Porath in the Neiman Reports article. In response to this, Cristina Breshears retorted “as if his contributors are all disabled people. Perhaps The Mighty should consider separating parent-writers from the actual disabled writers.”
Which begs the question: Why exactly are parent stories – which are also valid and needed, but separate and different from first person perspectives on disability – meshed together with the those written by people with disabilities about their own lives?
Mike Porath is a non-disabled parent who started the for-profit site based on disabled stories. He did so after the birth of his own disabled daughter. Make no mistake about it, the philosophy and guiding principles behind the sharing, contributions and content of The Mighty are not by and for the disabled community; they are by and for the parent community. Parents’ voices are at the forefront, and the Facebook group for contributors is led by the parents, not the disabled contributors. If and when any contributor strays far from the inspiring themes that lead the site, if they do indeed voice criticism, they find themselves pushed out.
It is reprehensible that Mike Porath is featured in this article as an innovating expert leader in portraying disability within the media. It is far from the truth. Alice Wong states:
“I was excited to see an article by Neiman Reports on journalism and better representation of people with disabilities. Halfway through reading the article I was astounded to see Mike Porath and The Mighty featured.”
She goes on to say, “His recommendations came directly from disabled writers who used to write for The Mighty and from the disability community who has been vocal about The Mighty’s problematic practices. In the article, he with The Mighty is seen as an established source of stories about disability–something that couldn’t be farther from the reality. If the reporter did a simple Google search about The Mighty, I’d like to think the recent #CrippingTheMighty hashtag would have appeared and alerted her to the real situation.”
Wong makes an excellent point. A simple google search of “the mighty site” yields results such as “Website “The Mighty” Faces Intense Criticism From Disabled Adults” and “Some Disabled Writers Angered by Their Removal from The Mighty’s Facebook Group.” These are first page results. When adding “disability” to the search term, a change.org petition comes up, “The Mighty: Apologize for the Harm You Do to the Disability Community!” and “A disability-focused website ran a ‘funny’ post on autism. Anger ensued.”
With search results that are this clear and immediate, it is curious why the author of Reporting on Disability with Sensitivity, Not Sensationalism – and Neiman Reports – chose not to fact check Mike Porath or The Mighty. It begs the question of whether this is a case of errant reporting or an active choice to portray Mike Porath and his site as experts in a field that the very community they purport to help takes them to task for.
For more information:
Two Ethical Futures for The Mighty, by David Perry
Some Real Talk About the Mighty, by s.e. smith
Looking Back at #CrippingTheMighty, by The Crippled Scholar
Cripping The Mighty, by Bad Cripple