At the end of the first week in January, I shared a post by Cara Liebowitz where she detailed a phone call with The Mighty staff members and her suggestions for where the site could stand to improve. I received a comment which stated that a parent felt that Ms. Liebowitz's list of demands were "harsh" and "off-putting." But they were interested in "discussion and debate" so they wanted to bring up their point of view.
Respectfully, this is much more than just a discussion and debate topic to me (and to many in the disabled community.) Ms. Liebowitz was not arbitrarily making a list of demands that suit just her. These are things many in the disabled community have been discussing (and bringing up to The Mighty staff) for a long time. The first time I was published by them I had all of my self-identifying language changed without my consent, and then published it that way. (This is referenced in the editor's note about the taking down of the Meltdown Bingo article, actually.) What is not mentioned there is the fact that in addition to respectfully requesting that my language preferences be restored, I also pointed the editor toward information on the harm of inspiration porn, the social model of disability and brought up the need for at least 50% disabled people on their staff. I did this last April, and was largely ignored on those points.
I found it troubling that Ms. Liebowitz's list of demands was viewed as “off-putting” and “harsh”. In my view, they are absolutely necessary, given the content that has been published on The Mighty (Meltdown Bingo was just the straw that broke the camel's back.) When there is a place online that publishes stories that mock disabled children in severe emotional distress, articles that defend sterilizing a disabled child and stopping puberty, and articles about a dad verbally and emotionally abusing his disabled son, that is dangerous. It isn't just that we are offended. It's that content like this is actually threatening to our safety, our bodily integrity and our basic rights as human beings. If you were to read an article on a site that featured any of the above topics, but about an able-bodied child, the outrage would be swift and fierce. No one would frame a dad screaming at his 5-year-old to do something physically impossible as “Oh that poor dad.” No one would see a story about a 10-year-old being sterilized without her consent as understandable. No one would see mocking an able-bodied child in severe emotional and physical distress as okay. But when these things are written about disabled children, suddenly they are fair game?
When the general public reads things like these (and articles rife with inspiration porn) it informs how they will interact with the disabled population. It puts us at risk. If people think it's okay to take random pictures of disabled people out in public just because someone sees us out and maybe struggling? Without our consent, that is exploitative. It frames us only as objects of pity and able-bodied people that see and help us not as human beings but as angels or heroes. It does disabled people no favors to be viewed as though merely interacting with us is a monumental favor.
I am well aware that not all the contributors are professional writers or bloggers. This is not about insisting everyone become that. It's about The Mighty having a content standard that will no longer allow the dehumanization, ridicule or damage to the very population being discussed on its site. Ms. Liebowitz said that The Mighty articles should have a purpose, she did not specify what that purpose ought to be. Having focus or direction for a piece should not be a hardship, it should be par for the course.
When many people in a minority group say that something is wrong and damaging to us, it is not “jumping on a bandwagon.” It means there is a problem. Instead of being put off by our refusal to tolerate any longer something that harms our community, we would love for you to hear us. Parents, this kind of harmful media will impact the way society treats your disabled child. If there are people out there who want to make sure he is treated with dignity and respect, wouldn't you want that?
Yes, there are always going to be people who disagree and have a different take on things. I'm sure there are disabled people who don't know about The Mighty or have other things to worry about that take priority over that, or that just don't care. BUT you can't really deny that a lot of us are saying the same thing here: essentially that is that we are being harmed by the constant content that is overtly ableist and/or abusive toward a population that is already at significantly greater risk of being abused.
Ms. Liebowitz said what a lot of us feel. She was bracing herself for disappointment with regard to the phone call because history had shown her that The Mighty and its staff do not value us. The fact that the editors kept their word and were timely was surprising to her, I'm sure. Would it be considered heavy handed and power-driven for a white, straight, able-bodied man to demand to be treated with dignity? I don't think any of us would think twice about that, because we are used to men naturally being in a position of power and asking for what they need and what they deserve. We expect them to. Ms. Liebowitz is a disabled woman. Our society is not used to disabled women standing up and saying, “enough is enough.”
Demanding to be treated with basic human dignity and respect on the page should never feel harsh or off-putting or power-driven. It should feel reasonable and expected and natural. I want Ms. Liebowitz to know that I absolutely am standing with her.
Author's Note: Due to The Mighty's continued refusal to hear us, as of January 12, 2016 I have requested that The Mighty remove the two republished articles I shared with them, as it is no longer a place I feel comfortable associating myself with. You can find the original posts at the links below:
Cautions and Kudos for Able Parents Raising Disabled Kids
Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month: Day 8: Letter to My Younger Self
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