The Mighty and Disability Representation in Media

In a recent article on Neiman Reports, Mike Porath, founder of The Mighty, is presented as an expert on stories related to disability, and his site, The Mighty, as an established source on disability representation. This could not be further from the truth.

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:

#CrippingTheMighty

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

 

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* Note: this article originally mistakenly credited Eryn M. Carlson with authorship.

10 Comments

  • I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh towards the Mighty. Yes, they’ve made some mistakes, including the one spectacularly big one that everyone talks about. Will they ever be given a chance to change, or will that single incident haunt them forever? Looking at the last 24 stories posted on the site right now, 7 are from parents. One is from a spouse. Two are from psychotherapists. The other 14 are written by people with disabilities or mental illness. That’s well over half. Should there be more? Perhaps. But clearly people who have disabilities ARE being represented.

    Look, the Mighty is not a website for radical disability politics. They’re not trying to be. They’re more of a support group. That’s why their content is mostly positive. The truth is, people need that. They need to feel hope, especially if they’ve been newly diagnosed with a disability or medical condition. They need to see people with disabilities who are doing positive things to change society’s attitudes. But there’s plenty of other more in-depth content on the site once you start looking, and many stories by people with disabilities who are living ordinary lives, and want readers to know that they don’t like being called inspirational.

    I don’t think the Mighty is as widely hated as you believe, either. Clearly they have no shortage of people with disabilities who are contributors there. I also know for a fact that you’re wrong about none of the employees having disabilities. In fact it’s the opposite! And while the content could be better organized, mixing posts from parents of kids with disabilities with those of adults with disabilities encourages us to read each other’s perspectives. If parents are living in a bubble and just talking to other parents, that’s unhealthy for them and their kids. Some of the parent contributors may live in a bubble, but many clearly don’t. And among those who do, it’s because of the other places where they congregate, not the Mighty.

    Personally, I believe that we are better off working with the Mighty than against them. I don’t consider starting an alternative site to be working against them! There’s room for everyone’s perspective. But if you (the general you, not Meriah specifically) don’t like what’s going on there, change it. Write a story for them to share that reflects your values. Apply for one of their job openings. Be the change, or quit griping.

    • Rachel, I couldn’t agree more.

      I am also glad that the controversy in Mighty Voices helped me better understand oversharing and protecting the privacy of your subject. I’m a better writer because of learning that. 🙂

  • I disagree with the comments here. Since January the mighty has doubled down and turned their back on those such myself that were critical. Link to my essay at bad cripple under more information. I see the site as nothing more than inspiration porn and a way for non disabled parents to connect with others who are rising children with a disability. If journalists are turning to the mighty and Michael Porath as experts on disability we people with a disability that advocate for our civil rights are in deep trouble. The mighty is a for profit entity that thrives on baseless stereotypes and is nothing more than bad click bait.

  • Today’s Mighty content update. Latest 24 stories: People With Disabilities: 12. Parents: 5. Professionals: 2. Disability News: 5. Again disabled voices predominate.

    • I looked at the 24 entries. Not one is in my estimation worth posting. Certainly none are from a disability rights perspective. The story written by a man who had a SCI injury is particularly useless. Content matters.

      • So disabled voices only count if you like what they have to say? If that’s how you feel, you’re no better than what you accuse the mighty of being.

        • I did not write a word about liking or disliking the posts. I stated they were not worth posting because the quality was not up to par regardless of the authors point of view. Again, quality of content matters. Churning out substandard content in what I assume is an effort to draw readers is a down side to a profit driven website like the mighty.

  • It doesn’t change the fact that many of those writers were exploited. If they find your blog, they ask for your content in under a day. If it’s from your blog, they heavily edit it. They treat their writers like absolute crap. So no, posting more “disabled voices” isn’t good enough.

  • Hi,

    I publish an Australian website on disability news and opinion at:
    https://mydisabilitymatters.com.au

    and was wondering if it might be okay to republish this article and any other relevant ones on our website, with appropriate credit and a link back of course.

    It would help spread your work and gain a wider audience for you.

    Hope we can work together and I am quite happy to publish other articles you may have written that aren’t on your blog also.

    Thanks,
    Dale.

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