(For background info on The Mighty controversy, check out the #CrippingtheMighty Storify and this excellent Washington Post article, in which yours truly is quoted!)
Megan and Vicki seemed eager to hear my opinions, particularly in reference to potentially sticky situations (authors using language to self-identify, the use of trigger warnings, etc.) I think they were surprised when I told them that I had already drafted a list of demands for The Mighty as well as a list of potential editorial guidelines. I emailed them my lists and they took the time to read through them while on the phone and to ask me to clarify relevant points.
All in all, throughout this process, I've found Megan and Vicki to be mostly well-intentioned and eager to learn, if a bit naive and somewhat lackadasical, especially when it comes to moderating the cesspool that is the Mighty Voices Facebook group (a private Facebook group for contributors). However, they may simply be overwhelmed. As someone who moderated a Facebook group for over three years, I certainly know the difficulties of moderating, especially when arguments happen and turn nasty. The sheer drain of it was a large part of the reason I stopped moderating and even left the group altogether for a few months.
In any case, Megan and Vicki have certainly been better than most of the nondisabled parent contributors to The Mighty, many of whom have formed their own blog where they can presumably be free of actual disabled people, who might get in the way of the credo that a child's disability is ALL. ABOUT. THE PARENTS.
However, a phone call means nothing if it's not followed up with action. Where we go from here is dependent solely on what The Mighty does. I know I'll be watching. I also told Megan and Vicki, point blank, that unless I'm comfortable with the changes, I will not be submitting any more pieces to The Mighty. I doubt that the changes will be so radical as to make me feel comfortable submitting to them again, but I'm not ruling out the possibility of being pleasantly surprised.
Below are the list of demands I wrote for The Mighty, as well as the editorial guidelines I drafted. Megan and Vicki know that these are being posted in the interest of transparency and accountability. Feel free to chime in in the comments with any demands or guidelines you think should be included.
List of Demands for The Mighty
- Publicly make available all financial records on The Mighty website.
- Pay contributors for their work (suggested rate of $50 per republished article and $75 per original article). Compensate writers an extra $25 if their piece is picked up by another website.
- Establish editorial guidelines for pieces submitted and encourage contributors to edit their pieces if they do not meet those guidelines. (Sample editorial guidelines below)
- At least half of the Mighty staff should be people with disabilities, and at least half of those should be people with disabilities who are not parents (25% people with disabilities who are not parents).
- Specifically hire at least one person (preferably disabled, can be a disabled parent of disabled children) to review submissions as they come in and offer editorial feedback.
- Establish guidelines for what is shared on TM’s social media pages similar to the editorial guidelines (see I Am Norm’s social media guidelines).
- Make the Mighty Voices Facebook group a safe space by clearly outlining a list of rules (can be similar to editorial guidelines – no violating children’s privacy (unless it’s specifically stated that the child has given their permission), no harmful language, trigger warnings and image descriptions. Establish a clear list of consequences for breaking the rules (such as a three strike policy). Specifically hire one disabled (non-parent) person and one nondisabled person to co-moderate Mighty Voices group, with potential for more moderators hired as needed. Moderators can refer difficulties to the editors if things escalate to a point where they no longer feel comfortable handling it.
- Establish a peer review process for parents writing specifically about their disabled children (can be used at the discretion of the person who is reviewing submissions – obviously a parent’s experience is going to overlap with their children’s to some extent, but if they are solely writing about their children, rather than parenting, peer review is needed). For these types of pieces, as well as anything that could be controversial, one disabled (non-parent) person and one nondisabled parent will review the submission and offer feedback. If one or both of the reviewers decide that the piece should not be published, the piece must either be edited to bring it more in line with TM’s guidelines, or rejected completely. Peer reviewers will be compensated $25 for their review.
- Reach out to disabled-run and disability activism groups such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, National Council on Disability, etc. to partner with.
- Use either people-first language (people with disabilities) or identity first language (disabled people) if no preference is stated. For specific communities who have a history of preferring one or the other, default to that if no preference is stated. (For instance, the Deaf community and the Autistic community both generally prefer identity first language. However, those with intellectual disabilities tend to prefer people first language. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it is known that a majority of people in those communities prefer that language.) If the person you are writing about (if you’re writing about another person) or yourself (if you’re writing about your own disabilities) has a preference, use that preference. Never use terms like “special needs”, “retarded”, “wheelchair bound”, “confined to a wheelchair”, or “differently abled”. Those terms are disrespectful and do not encourage disability acceptance and pride.
- Rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t share it about someone else, don’t share it about a disabled person. This includes embarrassing details such as bathroom needs, or sharing about someone in a difficult moment without their permission (such as videoing a meltdown and posting it). If it’s something potentially embarrassing or could be used against someone later on (like in a job search), and you have that person’s permission to post, indicate that at the beginning of the post.
- Avoid inspiration porn. This is a story (or an image, or a video, etc.) that objectifies a disabled person in order to make a nondisabled person feel good. Examples of this are applauding a nondisabled person for doing something nice for a disabled person, without the disabled person’s consent or input, platitudes like “the only disability is a bad attitude”, and similar sentiments. Make the disabled person an active participant in your story.
- Include image descriptions and trigger warnings, if needed. Image descriptions are a short description of what a picture looks like so that those who are blind or visually impaired can access that content. Trigger warnings are warnings at the beginning of the piece that content may be triggering for people who are victims of trauma or who have specific phobias. Trigger warnings are not about “political correctness”. They’re about giving people a chance to choose whether or not to read content that may actually cause them harm. If image descriptions and/or trigger warnings are not included in your piece, the editors may add them.
- Make sure your piece has a purpose. Complaining is fine, but specific complaints and ranting are usually more suited for private groups than a public website. What is the purpose of your piece? To shed light on a specific diagnosis? To show how someone accomplished something specific? Keep your purpose in mind as you write and make sure that that purpose shines through.
- Disability is difficult, but it’s not just difficult because of symptoms. If your piece discusses how difficult it is to be disabled or to be a parent of a disabled person, keep in mind that environmental barriers can be much more disabling than biological symptoms, and include those barriers in your piece. This is the essence of the social model of disability, which says that disability results from the interaction of a biological impairment (the diagnosis of cerebral palsy, autism, etc.) with environmental barriers.
- Make sure you’re not using humor at someone else’s expense. Humor is great, but not when you’re using it to put someone else down or make someone else feel like you’re making fun of them. Make sure your humor is fun for all.