Maysoon Zayid doesn’t believe in “can’t”

Image by Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Maysoon Zayid is a comedian, actress, writer, tap dancer, and disability advocate. She also happens to have cerebral palsy.

When Maysoon suffered a brain injury during birth, her parents were told that there were things she would never do, including walk. But they didn’t believe in “can’t”. Maysoon’s father taught her to walk at age five, and she’s not only been walking, but performing, ever since.

Her parents could not afford to send her to physical therapy so instead, she went to performance classes, and after a happy childhood in New Jersey, she went on to Arizona State University on an academic scholarship, majoring in theatre. However, after a discouraging experience in an acting class where she lost the role of a woman with cerebral palsy in favour of a nondisabled classmate, she began to notice the under-representation of people with visible disabilities in Hollywood. And if they were represented, they were largely portrayed by non-visibly disabled actors. People with disabilities make up 20% of the American population, but only 2% of those seen on American television; 95% of which are played by non-disabled actors.

Shifting gears to comedy, an industry she considers more accepting, Maysoon excelled. She is the first comedian to perform in Palestine and Jordan and the co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival. She now travels all over the world performing stand-up comedy. What Maysoon calls her “big break” came in 2010 when she was asked to appear on the political news television program, Countdown with Keith Olberman. An exciting career milestone turned into a shocking lessen in internet trolls when she was confronted by hateful comments left online underneath the clip of her on the show. Maysoon says she never experienced bullying about her disability until entering the public eye on television. The experience inspired her to advocate for people with disabilities and champion better representation in entertainment.

Not only did she go on to become a regular contributor on Countdown with Keith Olberman, but her many successes since include a TedTalk with almost 11 million views and the founding of a charity called Maysoon’s Kids, which provided resources, programs and scholarships to orphaned and disabled children in Palestine.

To those who come to her for advice, she tells them this: “Don’t let your physical body or the treatment of others define you. Only you get to define you. Create the person you want to be and be that person.”

At Pacific Medical Law, we are committed to helping children living with cerebral palsy reach their full potential. We are here to help. Call us for a free consultation – we can provide information about community resources and supports as well as legal advice regarding your child’s rights for financial compensation. 

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