Maysoon Zayid: Advocacy With Humor

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Maysoon-Zayid standing before an audience at a conference waving a hand

By Brady Rhoades

What do you see when you look at Carol Burnett? How about Rosie O’Donnell or Margaret Cho? As for Maysoon Zayid, an actress who’s butted up against thousands of closed doors, she saw beauty. The beauty of opportunity.

“I realized that comedy was my way into Hollywood,” said Zayid, a stand-up comedian set to debut her new television series, Can Can. “I lucked out because I’m funny.”

Zayid galloped after her acting dream once she earned her degree in theater from Arizona State University … but it was a rocky start.

“I realized very quickly that casting directors were not taking me seriously because of my disability, cerebral palsy,” said Mansoon, in an interview with DIVERSEability Magazine. “I also became acutely aware of the fact that I didn’t see people who looked like me, a multiple minority, on TV.”

Born and raised in Cliffside, New Jersey, Zayid is of Palestinian descent.

She’s done plenty of comedic work, including starring in Stand Up: Muslim-American Comics Come of Age. She’s also appeared in films, most prominently in Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

As an advocate for equal rights for people with disabilities, she’s a shot in the arm to others who continue to face closed doors.

“People who have CP or other disabilities have often thanked me for being shameless about my shaking,” Zayid said. “Parents of kids with disabilities who are not disabled themselves tend to be inspired by how influential my father was in my life. They say it gives them hope that if they, too, are a good parent their child will thrive. People who feared disability seem relieved to be able to laugh about it while learning to be more inclusive. Some people just laugh because it’s funny. They are not learning, they are not inspired, and that is totally fine by me.”

ABC agreed to pick up Can Can last year—Zayid is still waiting for the word on when it will air.

Serena Williams and Maysoon Zayid at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women 2018 in Philadelphia.
Serena Williams and Maysoon Zayid at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women 2018 in Philadelphia. MARLA AUFMUTH/GETTY IMAGES

“I am creator writer, star and producer on Can Can,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to direct myself. It is a comedy series that revolves around a woman who happens to have CP balancing work, family and relationships. That’s all I can tell you for now. Stay tuned!”

You might learn a lot by watching Can Can, or you might learn nothing at all but simply laugh out loud. Either way, Zayid will be pleased.

“I’m here to make people laugh, not to preach. If they learn to be better people in the process, that’s great, too,” the 45-year-old comedian said.

Zayid started her acting career spending two years on the popular soap opera As the World Turns, and she has also made guest appearances on Law & Order, NBC Nightly News and ABC’s 20/20.

During her early acting experiences, she found both her disability and her ethnicity repeatedly limiting her advancement. Zayid then turned to stand-up and began appearing at New York’s top clubs, including Carolines on Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club, and Stand Up NY, where she tackled some serious topics, such as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She co-founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003 with comedian Dean Obeidallah. Held annually in New York City, the festival showcases Arab-American comics, actors, playwrights and filmmakers.

In late 2006, Zayid debuted her one-woman show, Little American Whore, at Los Angeles’ Comedy Central Stage; it was produced and directed by Kathy Najimy. In 2008, the show’s screenplay was chosen for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Production began with Maysoon as the lead in the fall of 2009.

Zayid usually tours by herself or as a special guest on the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. She also co-hosts the radio show Fann Majnoon (Arabic for “crazy art”) with Obeidallah.

Zayid performs onstage during Ms. Foundation for Women Comedy Night
Comedian Maysoon Zayid performs onstage during Ms. Foundation for Women’s 23rd Comedy Night at Carolines On Broadway. ASTRID STAWIARZ/GETTY IMAGES FOR MS. FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN

Zayid can be seen in the 2013 documentary, The Muslims Are Coming!, which follows a group of Muslim-American stand-up comedians touring the United States in an effort to counter Islamophobia. The documentary also features various celebrities such as Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow.

Cerebral palsy is extremely difficult, even torturous, so how does one make it funny?

Here’s Zayid in one of her stand-up routines, talking about getting passed over for the part of—can you guess?—a person with cerebral palsy.

“I went racing to the head of the theater department, crying hysterically like someone shot my cat, to ask her why, and she said it was because they didn’t think I could do the stunts,” Zayid said, with a quizzical, comical look. “I said, ‘Excuse me, if I can’t do the stunts than neither can the character!’”

Welcome to Zayid’s world, where one’s misfortune can be funny. It’s okay.

Audiences probably feel for her—“It’s exhausting,” she says of the constant shaking. But soon enough, they’re laughing from the gut up as they become more familiar—and following Maysoon’s lead, more comfortable—with her condition.

That’s key. Her shows have a family feel. Out of decency, respect and, yes, fear, folks do not laugh about a disability until they’re given permission to by an insider.

Here’s how Zayid-the-insider introduced herself at one show in San Francisco: “I don’t want anyone in this room to feel bad for me,” she said, scanning the crowd with her trademark goofy gaze. “Because at some point in your life, you’ve dreamt of being disabled. Come on a journey with me: It’s Christmas Eve. You’re at the mall. You’re driving around in circles looking for parking, and what do you see? Sixteen empty handicapped spaces. And you’re like, ‘God, can’t I just be a little disabled?’”

Of people with disabilities, Zayid says, “We are not happy snowflake angel babies. We grow up, have relationships, experience a range of emotions, and deal with things like chronic pain. Not everybody in the disability community wants to be ‘cured.’ We can have multiple disabilities and also be multiple minorities. Disability intersects with every community.”

She points out that about 20 percent of Americans have a disability. “Disability doesn’t discriminate—you can become part of this group at any time,” she said. “We are 20 percent of the population, and disability rights are human rights.”

So, if you haven’t already, put Can Can on your radar as a must-see show. It’s possible you might learn a little something, but one thing is sure—you’ll definitely laugh.

Netflix Series About Teen On The Spectrum Poised For New Season

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Atypical stars stting in a car having a talk

A television show centering on the coming-of-age experiences of a teenager with autism is set to return. Netflix says that it will debut a third season of “Atypical” next month.

The series stars Keir Gilchrist as Sam, a 19-year-old on the spectrum who’s seeking love and independence.

“In season three, Sam starts his first year of college and is faced with the challenge of figuring out what success means for him, while adjusting to the changes that come with growing up,” Netflix said.

Gilchrist does not have autism in real life. But, the show did feature five characters played by actors with the developmental disorder during the last season.

In addition, Netflix previously said it has consulted with experts including a special education professor and a self-advocate to ensure that the half-hour show offers a realistic portrayal of life on the spectrum.

Continue on to Disability Scoop to read the complete article.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2019

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The Right Talent, Right Now official poster for NDEAM with their website and pictures of people with disabilities at work

Reflecting a commitment to a robust and competitive American labor force, the 2019 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme is “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

The 2019 NDEAM theme emphasizes the essential role people with disabilities play in America’s economic success, especially in an era when historically low unemployment and global competition are creating a high demand for skilled talent.

Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.

NDEAM dates back to 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Learn more about the origins and evolution of NDEAM and other important events in disability employment history in their timeline.

What can YOU do to celebrate NDEAM? There are lots of ways! To get started, see the 31 Days of NDEAM slideshow :

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers a range of resources to help organizations plan NDEAM observances, including not only the official poster in English and Spanish, but also sample articles, a press release, proclamation and social media content.

For information, visit the Department of Labor here.

Superfest Disability Film Festival 2019

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Man with prosthetic hand holds up sign for Superfest Disability Film Festival

With over 160 film submissions, only fifteen films were selected by our panel of judges, all of whom are prominent members of the disability community. Among the films you will enjoy this weekend there are short and full-length features including documentaries, comedies and daring dramas. In fact there are even five thought-provoking animated shorts to be screened. The films are global, from Iran, Germany, Australia, India as well as from right here in the Bay Area.

But Superfest is more than a film festival, it’s an annual community gathering and celebration. Thank you for joining us to experience the power of film, people telling their own story with creativity, beauty and emotion. Film is one of the most nuanced ways that important subjects can be brought to the forefront.

This is the 33rd festival celebrating under-told stories of people with disabilities. For the past seven years San Francisco State’s Longmore Institute on Disability and LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired have partnered to jointly coordinate and expand Superfest. In these years Superfest has expanded, not only growing the two day festival each fall, but bringing Superfest’s films and philosophy to locations across the Bay Area, country and globe.

Superfest Disability Film Festival

-Saturday, October 12 – Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St. in Berkeley) at noon
-Sunday October 13 – Contemporary Jewish Museum (736 Mission St. in San Francisco) screenings at 11 am and 2 pm

SUPERFEST PRODUCERS
THE PAUL K. LONGMORE INSTITUTE ON DISABILITY at San Francisco State University envisions a society where everyone believes the world is better because of disabled people. We study and showcase disabled people’s experiences to revolutionize social views. Through public education, scholarship, and cultural events, the Longmore Institute shares disability history and theory, promotes critical thinking, and builds a broader community. Learn more: longmoreinstitute.sfsu.edu

LIGHTHOUSE FOR THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED provides deep learning, skills training, advocacy and community for blind individuals in California and around the world. Founded in 1902 in San Francisco, the LightHouse is one of the largest and most comprehensive blindness organizations in North America, with programs for blind and low vision people of all ages. LightHouse is a proud champion of Superfest. Through Superfest LightHouse continues the traditions of the rich history of Bay Area disability groups in promoting the rights and interests of disabled people.

Casting Call! Emmy Award-winning Production Company (producers of A&E’s Born This Way) is casting for a new documentary series that would follow the lives and journeys of three entrepreneurs with disabilities

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Flyer announcing the casting call for entrepreneurs with disabilities

Emmy Award-winning Bunim/Murray Productions (producers of A&E’s Born This Way, HBO’s Autism The Musical, and MTV’s The Real World) is casting for a new documentary series that would follow the lives and journeys of three entrepreneurs with disabilities (including physical, cognitive, sensory, or mental health disabilities) to showcase their abilities as business owners.

This show will not be going to pilot (an initial sample episode), rather we are jumping straight to a multiple episode series. Bunim-Murray Productions will film the selected entrepreneurs in their hometown and at their business.

At the moment, we are simply looking to be connected to great individuals to learn more about them and their businesses. In the next few weeks, we are hoping to connect with and talk to charismatic, creative, interesting, funny, and driven entrepreneurs with disabilities for this new television program.

TO APPLY PLEASE VISIT BMPCASTING.COM/B4B

TO NOMINATE SOMEONE YOU KNOW VISIT, BMPCASTING.COM/B4B

FOR MORE INFO ABOUT BUNIM-MURRAY, VISIT BUNIM-MURRAY.COM

Blind engineer builds a SMART cane that has Google Maps, Bluetooth, and a sensory device

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Blind engineer poses with his smart cane and a group of people smiling and pointing to him

In today’s age of advanced technology, a lot of devices, gadgets, and programs are built to make our lives easier and more convenient.

While the more recent innovations were designed for entertainment, some companies are taking technology to the next level by incorporating a high level of help and hopefully, to make a difference to the lives of people who need it the most.

Unfortunately I cannot name a single city as a perfectly disabled-friendly city that is why we are trying to provide this independency for visually impaired people” shared Ceylan on CNN.

The WeWALK smart cane was born from a visually impaired engineer named Kursat Ceylan. He is also the CEO and co-founder of a non-profit called the Young Guru Academy (YGA), the one responsible for making WeWALK come to life. As someone who faces the daily challenges of being blind, Kursat Ceylan knew the limitations of the current technology that people like him have to make do of. Knowing this, he created the WeWALK in hopes of changing the lives of the blind.

This innovative cane includes a built-in speakers, voice assistance, Google Maps, a Bluetooth system that makes syncing to other devices possible, and high-end sensors that alerts the user through vibrations when above chest level obstacles are within proximity—something a regular cane cannot provide.

In these days we are talking about flying cars, but these people have been using just a plain stick,” he explained to CNN. “As a blind person, when I am at the Metro station I don’t know which is my exit… I don’t know which bus is approaching… which stores are around me. That kind of information can be provided with the WeWalk.”

Continue on to Positive Outlooks to read the complete article.

Teacher Carries Student With Spina Bifida On His Back So She Won’t Miss Out on Class Field Trip

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Teacher carries disabled student in a specialty made backpack

A Kentucky teacher is being hailed for going above and beyond the call of duty to bring a disabled student along on their field trip.

Ryan Neighbor’s fourth grade class at Tully Elementary School had been preparing to go on a field trip to Falls of the Ohio State Park last week—and she was heartbroken over the prospect of missing out on the fun.

Since the 10-year-old youngster was born with spina bifida, she has relied on a wheelchair her entire life. This is not the first time that Ryan’s disability has prevented her from attending field trips in the past, so her mother Shelly King began “preparing for an ‘alternate field trip day.’”

Thankfully, she didn’t have to. Upon hearing about Ryan’s plight, elementary school teacher Jim Freeman contacted the family “out of the blue” and offered to carry Ryan around on his back for the entire field trip.

True to his word, Freeman used a specialized backpack to carry the 55-pound youngster on his back across the park terrain—and Ryan was thrilled.

Since her mother shared photos of Freeman and Ryan on the field trip, they have been shared thousands of times.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

North Carolina Deputy Lauded For Buying Disabled Woman’s Gas

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Officer pumping gas into a car

A North Carolina sheriff’s deputy is receiving praise on social media for buying a tank of gasoline for a disabled woman who didn’t have enough money to fill up her car.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports Forsyth County sheriff’s deputy Chris Owen said he was checking on security at a Sheetz convenience store in Winston-Salem around 3 a.m. Sunday when a woman asked him to pump her gas.

Owen, a seven-year veteran of the department, said the woman gave him $8. But he figured that wasn’t enough to get her where she needed to go, so he put the nearly $39 purchase on his credit card and gave the woman her money back.

By Tuesday afternoon, Owen’s story had more than 8,000 reactions and 1,200 shares on Facebook.

Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, journalnow.com

Marilee Talkington stars alongside Jason Momoa in Apple TV+’s upcoming futuristic, post-apocalyptic drama “See”

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Apple TV Movie poster with images of Marilee Talkington and Jason Momoa with the word "SEE" printed on it

A lifelong advocate and a voice for other actors that are also visually impaired, Marilee Talkington will be lighting up television sets alongside Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones,” AQUAMAN) in Apple TV+’s upcoming futuristic, post-apocalyptic drama “See,” premiering Friday, November 1st.

Legally blind herself, Marilee will be playing more than just a role in a show, but a pivotal role in the fight for authentic casting and representation.

From the producers of the PLANET OF THE APES Trilogy, written by Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”) and directed by Francis Lawrence (THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY PARTS 1 & 2), “See,” tells the story of a future where a virus has wiped out most of mankind, leaving the survivors blinded. Marilee stars as “Souter Bax,” an emotionally complicated character, authentically representing the blind community. In addition to Jason Momoa, the show also stars Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress, Alfre Woodard (12 YEARS A SLAVE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) and Archie Madekwe (MIDSOMMAR).

Marilee also spends her time as a consultant for TV shows, films, theater, university, and conservatories for authentic casting and representation on stage and screen. She has even created an acting program for authentically blind/low vision actors and is heavily involved in SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities Committee, as well as 50/50 by 2020. Marilee even went viral in 2017, being featured for HuffPost and the Observer, when at a panel for the World Science Festival, a female panelist kept getting cut off by the male moderator, Marilee jumped in from the crowd asking him to “Let her speak, please!” Passionate about her activism, she is fighting for those around her and coming after her.

Born with cone-rod dystrophy, a retinal disease she had inherited from her mother, Marilee had no central vision, and learned how to not just survive, but thrive. Heavily involved in basketball throughout high school, even earning herself a spot on the CA All-Star team, Marilee could not play in college as her sight continued to deteriorate. While studying Psychology, she took an acting class on a whim and fell in love immediately. Moving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, she worked hard, honing her craft before attending the American Conservatory Theater, graduating with honors as one of just a handful of legally blind actors in the country with an MFA in Acting.

WATCH THE TRAILER!

Following school, Marilee took to writing and directing groundbreaking plays, including “Sticky Time,” a show that took place around the audience, rather than the usual format, and “Truce,” (shown in San Francisco, New York and the BBC), in which Marilee played 22 different characters. ”Truce’s” cutting edge aspect was its set design as it paralleled her own vision loss so that audience members could viscerally experience what it might be like for her. In all her productions, Marilee aims to break apart the normative theatrical viewing experience and create highly visceral and experimental story-telling moments. She innovates new aesthetics to integrate her specific physical experience of the world into each show.

Since then, she has starred in NBC’s “New Amsterdam,” CBS’ “NCIS,” and countless theater productions, both Off-Broadway and Regional. In the past 25 years, she has originated over 60 characters including lead roles in world premieres by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and Lauren Gunderson (most produced playwright in the US, 2017).

Photo Credit: David Noles

Peter Dinklage Sets Emmys Record With 4th Supporting Drama Actor Win

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Peter Dinklage onstage behind podium holding his eEmmy while speaking to audience

Peter Dinklage made Emmy Awards history on Sunday, winning Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for a record-breaking fourth time.  He previously took home the same award in 2011, 2015 and 2018.

Dinklage bested two of his fellow Game of Thrones actors — Alfie Allen and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau — for this year’s win, as well as Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), Giancarlo Esposito (Better Call Saul), Michael Kelly (House of Cards) and Chris Sullivan (This Is Us).

Prior to his fourth win on Sunday, Dinklage shared the three-win record with Art Carney, Don Knotts and Aaron Paul.

Game of Thrones was nominated for a total of 14 Primetime Emmy Awards this year, including the three mentioned above. Other nominees included Kit Harington (Jon Snow) for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series; Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series; and Gwendoline Christie (Ser Brienne of Tarth), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

The show also received three nominations in the category of Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, as well as a single nod for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and the biggie — Outstanding Drama Series.

Continue on to TVLine to read the complete article.

Kodi Lee, Singing Phenom Who Is Blind and Has Autism, 22, Wins America’s Got Talent Season 14

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Kodi Lee performs on America's Got Talent

Kodi Lee is the winner of America’s Got Talent!

After weeks of competition, Lee has been crowned the champion of season 14. On Wednesday’s episode, the star bested fellow finalists opera singer Emanne Beasha, violinist Tyler Butler-Figueroa, dance troupe Light Balance Kids, singer Benicio Bryant and Ndlovu Youth Choir.

Quartet Voices of Service (fifth place), dance troupe V. Unbeatable (fourth place), comedian Ryan Niemiller (third place), and the Detroit Youth Choir (second place) made it into the top 5.

In addition to the honor of being the winner, Lee takes home $1 million and headlining shows from Nov. 7-10 at Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Lee immediately captivated the audience and judges with his viral audition during which he blew everyone away with his rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” Gabrielle Union was so impressed that she gifted the 22-year-old singer with her Golden Buzzer.

Along with his unforgettable vocal talents, Lee’s life story has made him a fan favorite. The Lake Elsinore, California, native was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and diagnosed with autism at age 4. His mother Tina accompanied him on stage for the entire competition.

“He’s making people believe in something they didn’t even know is attainable. He’s magic,” Union previously told PEOPLE of Lee.

Continue on to People to read the complete article.