“If there is an Oppression Olympics – I would be a gold medalist. I am Palestinian, I am a Muslim, I am a female, I am a virgin, I live in New Jersey with Palsy.” – Maysoon Zayid, First Arab American Stand-up Comedian
This post is dedicated to the most lively, positive and empowering talk on disability and everything that is right about it. An ability, an opportunity to rise above the average. Presenting some excerpts on disability and parenting from her talk at India Today Conclave, 2014.
Survival of the wittiest, yes, that’s what Maysoon Zayid stood out for loud and clear with a subtle yet sensitive message on racism, disability and Islamophobia unequivocally. She is the most inspiring and humorously righteous stand up comedian who pulls out laughing fodder from her own life, with lessons for parents and society on how to treat Children With Special Needs (CWSN).
“I am bit like Muhammad Ali and bit like Shakira. I shake all the time. I have cerebral palsy”. She acquired CP from an accident at her birth. It is very common for people who have CP to use a wheelchair for mobility. “Yes you can, can” – Maysoon heard these words continuously from her family when she was learning to walk at the age of 5. And she gives due credit to her family for her mobility today, especially to her father, but through tongue-in-cheek humour and relating hilarious anecdotes.
“They weren’t afraid to push me, they weren’t afraid to ask people around to treat me as equal. This is rare. And it need not to be.” Mopping the floor, admission in a public school, helping out mother in daily household chores, attending social events, learning to swim in the Dead Sea and many other ‘normal’ activities instilled the confidence in her to never feel left out from the crowd. Her parents treated her exactly like they did her sisters.
“We need to understand, people are more than just their disability. I am more than my hair color, I am more than my eye color, I am more than my religion. I am certainly more than my disability. But we as a society tend to reduce people to just that”. Growing up with honour and dignity is one of the most basic things that parents can provide for CWSN. Because the disabled are the largest minority in the world, the most invisible, and the under-represented. It’s much easier for families and societies to forget that disability exists. People live on the belief that unless you ‘fix’ disabled children they are not worth having around.
“If you know someone who has a disabled child, it’s very important for you to not feel bad about them”. Or to constantly praise them either, “Oh! you are so great”! To encourage good behaviour you can give them rewards as you give to their siblings. Similarly, teaching good habits through gentle teaching ways is equally important. Don’t you punish other children when they commit mistakes? Then why not CWSN? You don’t have to make the child feel special for his inabilities. When you raise a child, every child has a problem. Every child has issues. We can’t take just one aspect of a child and make that the subject of focus.
And most importantly, “Talk to a disabled person. Don’t think of them as a shell of human being”.
Maysoon did not only survive some circumstances that predicted that she would be a sure-shot failure, but has, in fact, thrived and unleashed her full potential. She is a role model for all of us and teaches us what we can do with what we have if we channelized it well. Listen to her speak at the TED forum for more inspiration.