As an actress, comedian, and disability advocate, Maysoon Zayid has a message that speaks volumes to us all. Slippery Rock University’s Diversity Equality Inclusion Team (DEI) and Student Government Association (SGA) co-hosted with the Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE), the Fredrick Douglas Institute, and the Gender Studies program to bring Maysoon Zayid to the university Tuesday evening.
“Equality is a good thing and equality means everyone,” Zayid said.
Zayid used her background in theatre and comedy to tell everyone her life story. First, she explained to everyone what it is like to be a Muslim woman, living in New Jersey, and having a disability. Zayid has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and she said she never wants anyone to feel bad for her. She talked about the different things that she deals with in addition to her CP, like constantly involuntarily shaking. She also shared a personal story about a police officer thinking she was drunk due to her disability.
Comedic relief is her way of making her life story relatable and interesting, Zayid said, but still she is able to prove her point. She described her family and who her father and mother each resemble to help the audience better understand how they helped advocate for her: Saddam Hussein and Julia Roberts, respectively.
Zayid also discussed how, when she was younger, the Individuals with Disabilities Act was not yet enacted, and she struggled to get a quality public education until her father did something about it.
“[My father] marches me into the superintendent’s office, I’m on his toes, and he looks at the superintendent and says ‘Mr. Colegrecko, if you send my daughter to the special school, in the name of Allah, I will sue you!'” Zayid said. “So I went to public school.”
Zayid then discussed her college career studying theatre at Arizona State University. She joked about only being accepted due to being a minority in all the categories needed: she was a woman of color, Muslim, and disabled.
She talked about her struggles of doing very well in her classes and having all of her teachers love her, but never being cast in any of school productions. She explained that, during her senior year, the ASU produced a show about a girl with CP; Zayid thought she was destined to get the part, later discovering that was not true. She used this as a learning experience for us and for her professors at ASU.
“You can’t play physical disability,” Zayid said of the situation.
Zayid also talked about her career, which started working with Keith Olbermann, as well as appearing in “Don’t Mess with the Zohan” with Adam Sandler; Zayid worked for multiple comedy groups, as well. She also discussed that she had never been bullied until she was an adult doing her first live television shoot with Olbermann.
After the event, director of the OIE Corinne Gibson stated that she hoped the chance to see and hear Zayid speak would be an “opportunity [for students and faculty] to experience a person who deals with discrimination and who is a role model.”
Zayid left the audience with her lesson for all: “Dream big and reach for your dreams because you can do it, yes, you can-can!”