Recently The Mobility Resource caught up with actress/comedian Maysoon Zayid. Yes, the Maysoon Zayid who in 2014 left millions literally laughing out loud with her TED talk “I got 99 problems… palsy is just one.” While we shared a few laughs, our conversation addressed serious disability issues.
If you pay attention to Maysoon Zayid’s various media interviews, you will notice she remains vocal about disarming disability stereotypes through positive images. When asked how to accomplish this when the mainstream media seems to only use a limited narrative to cover disabilities, Zayid offered her observation. “Stories about people with disabilities in the media seem to fall into two categories. Either ‘Look how inspiring this subhuman is’ or ‘You can’t love me because I’m disabled, so heal me.’”
Breaking the Model
Zayid believes the power to “break the model” lay within a few different groups. “We need the powers that be to stop exoticising disability.” Able-bodied actors can also help. “We need able-bodied actors to say no to cripface and to allow for authentic portrayal of disability by actors with disability.”
Everyday people with disabilities play a crucial role too. “In everyday life we need to stop playing victim and we need to fight ableism head on.” She gave an example to explain. “Many in the disabled community feel ashamed when they ask for accommodations. We need to change our tune… Your boss isn’t doing you a favor and has no right to guilt you when you ask for accommodations. ADA is the law. Don’t apologize for demanding people to follow the law.”
Opportunities ADA provides Americans with disabilities likely gets taken for granted by many. Maysoon Zayid knows firsthand what disability looks like abroad due to her charity Maysoon’s Kids. She speaks to the charity’s mission “The goal of Maysoon’s Kids is to integrate Palestinian students with physical disabilities into the mainstream Palestinian public school system that has rejected them.”
Talking about Maysoon’s Kids Zayid compared Palestinian and American families. “I am being completely honest when I tell you it is easier to work with parents of children with disabilities in Palestine than it is in America. Parents there (Palestine) want what is best for their children and don’t take it personally when you recommend ways they can improve their child’s lives.”
Continuing she said “In America, a lot of parents I have encountered just want a pat on the back and to be told they are doing great instead of trying to learn how to do better. Parents in Palestine also are less obsessed with the ‘poor me’ side I get from a lot of First World parents who forget it’s their child, not them who has the disability. And that being a decent parent does not make you a superhero.”
When asked if she wanted to add anything we didn’t talk about yet Zayid began, “I am very distressed by the fact that disability is often left out in conversations about diversity and intersectionality. We as a disabled community need to also recognize that privilege exists within our community whether it’s in the form of race, or access to services. The rare times we see positive images of disability on TV, they are almost always white, slender and young. Minorities and ugly disabled people need not apply.”
She went on to advise “I think everyone truly interested in diversity needs to watch the film Tropic Thunder. It is the ultimate skewering of how Hollywood gets diversity all wrong.”
To learn more about Maysoon Zayid visit www.maysoon.com.
*Photo provided by Maysoon Zayid.