Run down of #CrippingTheMighty

This morning I spent a lot of time in the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag, finding blog posts about it, and getting a good sense of what is and isn’t going on.  Below I have an overview of what’s going on, followed by links to posts from the disability community on the issue. If you’d like yours added to the list, please comment!

What happened

The Mighty is basically disability content aggregation- think BuzzFeed, but on disability. Some of their posts are reprints or re-formats, some are original to them. From the beginning, different disability bloggers have felt uneasy with The Mighty, and those feelings have become progressively stronger.

On Sunday, December 20th, 2015 the disability community hit a tipping point in their opinion of The Mighty when it published a post called “Meltdown Bingo.” This post attempted to be humorous about an autistic meltdown using the Bingo meme, but instead ended up othering. The key issue with it was that it focused on the observer’s perspective and feelings, not those of the autistic having the meltdown.

While “Meltdown Bingo” was this breaking point, it merely is an example of the much larger issues with The Mighty that the community identified. The Disability Visibility Project’s Alice Wong then started the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag in order to address these issues.

What’s Wrong

Many of the issues come out of the aggregation approach that The Mighty has. For Aggregation sites to be successful, they need to have clickable content- mainly “clickbait”- that is likely to be seen. It can also have viral potential, either by addressing a timely or important issue or by tapping into an emotional experience shared by the target viewer. Unfortunately a lot of the content that is easy to source that fits this description in the disability community is content that is harmful.

From the beginning, The Mighty has been plagued with complaints that they are an inspiration porn mill. Inspiration Porn is a big problem when it comes to disability related content. Typically it takes something relatively normal that a disabled person is doing, and frames it as inspirational merely because the person is disabled. Another format, and one I’ve observed increasing lately, is the encounter between the abled person and the disabled person that gives the abled person a chance to do something “good.” In this version, the disabled person is even more of a prop than in the former, and could be replaced with a leg shaped lamp rather than with a cute puppy without substantial change in tone.

The other problematic- and possibly more damaging- content type is the warrior mommy blogger content. Beyond the fact that it centers parents over disabled perspectives, it frequently is focused on bemoaning how hard it is to parent a child with a disability and on throwing “pity parties” for parents. This is a dangerous narrative, as it normalizes negative and even aggressive narratives of parenting, which can end in tragic outcomes for the children of the parents that buy into it.

Additionally is the pathologizing and/or othering of the disabled child, down to the minutia of their lives. Under this framework, being respectful of the humanity and even the privacy of the child is ignored, and intimate details end up being published. Things that the parent would never post about themselves or about their non-disabled kids become public knowledge.

There is very little evidence that the editorial team has made an attempt to reign in this harmful content from contributors, until enough people protest individual posts.

While the Mighty has published some disabled bloggers, the decent content from these bloggers is drowned out by the other content on the site. Additionally, these bloggers have mentioned that they are often repeatedly asked to edit their content to be more palatable, more inspirational, and less difficult. Those who still end up putting out content that challenges the medical model and othering narratives end up being bombarded with comments from the community that has formed around the able-written content attacking their post for being too “negative” or not “uplifting.”

The summary of the issue is that The Mighty publishes content that is about disabled people, without disabled people. It fails to respect the humanity and privacy of disabled people, and treats them as subjects rather than as people. Attempts to challenge this is shot down by a community use to having their biases catered to on the site.

The goals of #CrippingTheMighty

There’s some misapprehension that this is an aimless protest, or that the goal already happened when The Mighty removed the “Meltdown Bingo” post and apologized. This is incorrect on both points. The short version is that the #CrippingTheMighty is asking for true reform of the site’s content and editorial policy, with the alternative of a dissolution of the site itself.

One specific ask is to increase the percentage of disabled writers so that parents are not the primary voice heard on the site, and so that disabled perspectives are centered. There is a secondary ask that is being floated for potential ad revenue to be shared with said disabled writers, whose work ought to be valued.

Another ask is for the editors to tighten the editorial policy so that harmful content is less likely to make it to publication. While this ask is focused on the warrior mommy type content referenced above, it also is intended to cover content that treats disabled people as objects. For example, instead of content that focuses on how great an abled person felt seeing a disabled person do something or doing something for a disabled person, it could aim for content that talks about uplifting interactions from the perspective of the disabled person. This isn’t an impossible ask- among the disabled-written posts are posts that fit this narrative.

An over-all shift towards a site wide perspective that centers disabled voices and perspectives is the biggest goal of #CrippingTheMighty. It seeks to bring the concept of “Nothing about us, without us” to the representation presented on The Mighty- and, when we get down to it, to the broader media environment.

Links

Below are some links that the disability (and allied!) community have written about this issue. While I wouldn’t always use the approaches some folks do because of my personal style, they do all have the basics of the issues written about above.

Why I Dislike The Mighty & Better Alternatives for Parents…. by Lei

The Mighty: Apologize For The Harm You Do to the Disability Community! by PACLA (Note: while in petition form, this could stand alone as a blog post)

Two Ethical Futures for The Mighty by David Perry

Thoughts on #CrippingTheMighty by The Crippled Scholar

CAN U NOT: A Twitter Ode From Me To The Mighty by Emma Pretzel

Open letter to The Mighty by Un-Boxed Brain

Why I’m not in love with The Mighty by 21 + 21 + 21 = ? (Parent of a child with Down Syndrome; Written in May 2015)

Why I’ve Had it With “The Mighty” by Meriah Nichols (published November 2015)

Meltdown Bingo: Autistic Edition (aka, a meltdown from the inside) by S. M. Neumeier

Neurodiversity Vs “the Mighty” by Michelle Sutton

My Response to an Appology from The Mighty by Holly

The Mighty thinks they want a conversation. by K. of Radical Neurodivergence Speaking (note: contains cuss words!)

#CrippingTheMighty by Paginated Thoughts

There are stories about people with disabilities that truly inspire me, and then there is inspiration porn. by IAmTheThunder (Suggested guidelines here are important for ALL people writing about disability, not just The Mighty!)

A Letter to the Editor of The Mighty by  Kimberly Faith

About The Mighty – my thoughts as a contributor AND The problems with The Mighty, and my suggestions for improvement by Carly Findlay

An Open Letter to The Mighty by Cara Liebowitz

Please, listen to our voices by Nora

What Do I Want From The Mighty? by Autistic Vegan

Why can’t we all get along?!? by Leah Kelly

Some Real Talk About The Mighty by s.e. smith

Storify of the hashtag by Alice Wong

 

I’m not a side story

… But going by the stories out there, you’d never know it.

A few months ago, I had a dream. There was buddies and lovers and hijinx and fabulous clothes and lots of fun. Sounds like a pretty cool dream, right? Except when I woke up, I realized it was a nightmare.  For having seen all these fabulous things happening in my dream, when I woke up I came to the realization that it was not my narrative arc that the dream was following. I was a side character in it- a part so small I barely had a name in it, a character so minor that even in a romance novel series that pairs a couple up per book, my character wouldn’t have a book. I was the character who existed only in order to give reactions to the actions of the character the narrative followed, more object than person, more context than character. When I woke up, I sobbed silently into my pillow for more than an hour in the pre-dawn morning.

The framework this nightmare was built on didn’t blossom up from my mind alone. It grew out of a lifetime of the media we, as a society, consume seeding itself there. Very rarely are stories- particularly love stories- the stories of disabled folks living their lives. Too often when they are, they become pity fests, or the disabled love interest exists primarily to teach the non-disabled love interest a lesson about life. (And primarily these are still white, hetrosexual relationships.)

Living without seeing your reflection in media is hard. Trying to picture what it would be like to marry, or parent, when there’s so little media to help us think about those things realistically is hard. It’s soul crushing. And it permeates past your conscious efforts, right into what’s inside of you. Eventually, hopes that look pretty normal seem like fantasy. You stop being able to picture yourself doing the things that you hoped for, which makes working towards them that much harder.

And it’s not like it’s easy to begin with. Beyond just the difficulty of life in general, when you are a person with a disability there are additional factors.

There’s a moment in your life when you are disabled- or trans, or queer, or a PoC or…- when you realize that in most of the media you consume the people who do actually seem like you aren’t there to be fully realized characters. You are the comic relief, or an instrument of change. You are the reason that the “real” characters learn to grow up, or take their first stand against an enemy. You aren’t the protagonist yourself.

When the story is over, the characters like you go unremarked or are carefully wrapped up and put back where they “belong.” This goes for Rain Man as much as for the recent Bones episode “Heiress on the Hill”- while they deal with different disabilities and were made more than two decades apart, both end with the surprise brother going back to the “nice” private institution where it is said that they “belong.” That Bones decided to do this, more than two decades and the Olmsted decision since Rain Man, broke my heart. I stuck with the show, but now… I’m too disgusted to go back. There are less restrictive settings for people with that level of MH support needs. I would know- I’ve helped write policy about them. And even if there weren’t, we could have seen Bones and Booth put money towards FUNDING the development of less restrictive settings instead of how it went down. I feel betrayed. I started watching the show because there weren’t many women like Bones on TV, women with a lot of autistic traits who uses her special interest to understand the world, and now… I can’t.

I’m not the only person who has talked about this, about finding characters who are like you, who move like you, who live like you. Who have talked about the first time they met themselves in literature or film. It can be empowering, and it can also be harrowing- empowering because representation matters, harrowing because too often it’s sterotypes, because when we grow up and look back we realize our relief clouded things, because it’s so hard to find.

*When I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, there was one thing that really suck with me about it, and that was the protagonist’s father. Too often, parents with mental health disabilities are displayed as incompetent at best, often pitiable and where not as villain. But here I felt like he was considered a good father by the protagonist- a man who might make some mistakes, yes, and one whose MHD impacts his life a lot, yes. But in the end he is a good father, and a good man. This was very powerful to me- when I was younger, I figured perhaps it would be best if I didn’t have children. I’d only seen bad things happen in the stories I saw or read about parents with MHDs, and assumed that it would be horrible for my kids. That the pattern I had at that time of going to the hospital every 2 years for a stay would stretch out forever, that my kids would end up bouncing in between me and my mother forever. I thought I should plan hard enough to not want kids, and tried to squash down any desire to.

*And then my niece was born, and I realized that I really do want to be a parent some day. Because of physical health issues there’s a chance I’ll need extra help to become a parent, but it is something I want. And it’s funny- I haven’t been in the hospital for MH stuff since before then, and she’s 5, and will be 6 in the fall. Along the way I had begun uprooting the ableism that was embedded in me, and continue to do so. So finally seeing a positive yet realistic depiction of someone with an MHD (aka Serious Mental Illness or SMI) being a loved parent- even if he’s one that needs help sometimes- was very affirmative for me.

*There’s still that his story was a side story, yes, and it wasn’t exactly a life full of romantic relationships for him. Which is why I want to talk about The Fault in Our Stars super quickly. (I know some people hate the author, but I don’t so I ask that you keep author critiques on your own pages thanks!) It’s a book that treats people whose lives are often seen as tragic and cut too short as being full people. That their lives are or are likely to be short doesn’t make their lives less meaningful or valuable or worth living. It doesn’t prevent them from having complex thoughts and feelings about their lives. And it doesn’t prevent them from falling in love and *gasp* having romantic relationships that include being sexual. That was really powerful for me, as it was for a lot of other people.

Atop a pile of boxed up books is a red sign with blue-ish text reading, "We need diverse books because without them, I have trouble being the protagonist of my own dreams." With sheep turning into "Zs" around it are a cane, a Fluttershy plushie, and a Dora doll

This week, there’s an effort called #WeNeedDiverseBooks going on. May 1st, they are putting out submitted pictures (mine is above) talking about why it’s important that marginalized people are represented in literature, especially in children’s and young adult books. May 2nd, there will be a twitter chat at 2pm under the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks- though the tag has been active since at least April 28th so feel free to join any time. (I’m @nicocoer.) On May 3rd, there’s going to be an effort to have folks buy, request, and share books about marginalized people and by marginalized authors. (You can find more details in this post.) I encourage you to check it out and to submit to the efforts as well.

It was this effort that helped me finally finish this post after months of working on it. I’m sure I could write more on this. I’m sure I could write more on how impactful it can be. But there’s too much to do that and ever really feel like I’m finished. And it goes, obviously, beyond disability- as many of the others involved in #WeNeedDiverseBooks can and are testifying, there’s too few representations of PoC, of people who don’t fall in the peak of the size bell curve, of people whose faith is not Christian (in the USA at least), or of a wide range of other folks. And what representations there are too often suffer from the same, similar, or analogous issues to those described above.

And none of us- none of us, period- should see ourselves as sidekicks of our own stories.

______

It’s also, coincidentally, Blogging Against Disablism Day on May 1st. Please go forth and check out the other posts being entered.

*Edited in. Forgot I hadn’t written it yet, oops. ~Bad Brains Princess at work~!

 

Plural of Medium. . .

. . . is Media. And media is how people express and communicate. Your voice is a medium, writing is a medium, art and video and. . . Yes, even poking someone repeatedly or jumping up and down or twitching your eyes in a pattern can be using a medium- your body- to communicate.

Everyone can use some sort of media. Before I get protests, I’m including pushing away unwanted things, fecal smearing, and tiny behaviors as well as examples of use of media. Sometimes our methods and medium is ignored or not understood, but that doesn’t make it less our medium. Sometimes we can’t even define exactly what we are communicating with our media yet, but it’s a process. Sometimes, figuring out what we mean- communicating with ourselves- is even more a part of using media than communicating with others.

When we are given the chance to be exposed to new media, new methods of expression, we are being given access to more opportunities to find the way to get it out right. To find communication. Eventually some of us do gain access to media that other people understand our use of. We learn to speak, or sing, or make music or videos. We paint, or sew, or costume; we write, decoupage, rearrange, and stack. We learn to dance, to write, and to find a new way to get the message across to that it is heard. Some of us aren’t given that chance, and some people even find that other people’s media aren’t for them.

When you are someone whose communication methods or media are ignored when you want them observed, it can be an opening to find a new medium to call your own. I learned to type, I gained those skills, and I suddenly had access to a much larger community than I had when speaking or shrieking or running away or stacking dolls gave me.

Indeed, the way that typing opened up writing to me was a better medium in the end for me than those I already had- my fluency writing now is better than my speaking was at the height of my verbal ability. I can use this medium, the medium of digitized writing by the hitting of keys, in times when I can’t even verbally speak at all, in times where my message as a kid might have been lost in other people’s reactions to my screaming wordlessly because I didn’t have the right words to speak any more.

Other people find other media. Some people won’t rely on their media the way I do. Some people might rely on it more.

How beautiful would a poem in just PECs, just the way they are handed, be?

Some media is painful, or dangerous, or scary- or even, in the case of Thich Quang Duc, deadly. Sometimes that can be powerful, while other times- like fecal smearing- it can be too alarming to observers and yes, dangerous, to get across anything, even your own distress.  Sometimes the media we know isn’t sufficient to express what we mean- is your reaction to fecal smearing to recoil, maybe even freak out, or is it to find a way to figure out if someone is constipated? (If it’s the second one, I’m guessing you have a little experience with this cross media translation.)

In some cases, the solution is to find more ways to experience and express experience. Gaining new skills, or discovering alternatives. Other times it might be to just let other people react to you burning soundlessly.

The first time someone walked a friend through other signals for “my butt hurts” or that that type of pain is constipation, she nearly squeezed my hand off in joy.

Sometimes, a new medium is just a great way to accomplish something that you might not otherwise be able to do. Creating a more accurate and useful AAC device- even for less- or finding an easier way to collaboratively caption videos on the web. Applying dance to practical mobility difficulties or exploring how movements can be adapted to suit all types of bodies. Crafting tools to navigate difficult sensory environments or using virtual video distribution to share a larger message.

All media, in practice, in use, building and creating access, building and creating our futures.

What does it mean to build access together? What world can we envision when we apply love and justice to our media to find a world where we honor all people, regardless of ability, and their needs?

This summer, I and others will be attending the Allied Media Conference. It’s not a disability conference, or a topical conference. AMC is just brought together by people that believe that we can use a wide range of media to change the world. Within that larger vision, people with disabilities saw a vision for our justice, for a way to create access collectively.

Creating Collective Access allows us to make accessible the potential of media skill sharing, network, and vision planning that AMC promises to people who might not otherwise be able to be a part of it. PwD and our Chronically Ill brethren face access barriers beyond a lack of ramps and braille. Working together and treating access as a matter of community rather than individual “burden” allows us to be a part of building a world that includes us and the potential we can realize through media.

And in turn, we can make accessible the wider community- the world.

What does it mean to explore and honor our potentials, our media, our vision? What sort of world can we build when access is a part of what it means to build communities? When it is a natural part of the creation of change?

I invite others to write about what it means to you- personally or pon the grand scale-  to access media. I also hope that you will help me and others by donating to CCA’s Indiegogo. We all came up with cool things to contribute to the returns. I’m contributing custom writing- poems for cheap but if you put in a lot an article or even ghost writing- and my mom is contributing reiki sessions and herbalist consults. Others are contributing zines, books, films, tarot readings, MCS friendly bath products, and even customized baking. You can find out more, including more details about CCA, on the CCA Indiegogo page.