Hello , TEDWomen , what 's up .
( Cheers )
Not good enough .
Hello , TEDWomen , what is up ?
( Cheers )
My name is Maysoon Zayid , and I am not drunk , but the doctor who delivered me was .
He cut my mom six different times in six different directions , suffocating poor little me in the process .
As a result , I have cerebral palsy , which means I shake all the time .
It 's exhausting . I 'm like Shakira , Shakira meets Muhammad Ali .
( Laughter )
C.P . is not genetic .
It 's not a birth defect . You ca n't catch it .
No one put a curse on my mother 's uterus , and I did n't get it because my parents are first cousins , which they are .
( Laughter ) It only happens from accidents , like what happened to me on my birth day .
Now , I must warn you , I 'm not inspirational , and I do n't want anyone in this room to feel bad for me , because at some point in your life , you have 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 , ca n't I just be a little disabled ? '' ( Laughter ) Also , I got ta tell you , I got 99 problems , and palsy is just one .
If there was an Oppression Olympics , I would win the gold medal .
I 'm Palestinian , Muslim , I 'm female , I 'm disabled , and I live in New Jersey .
( Laughter ) ( Applause ) If you do n't feel better about yourself , maybe you should .
Cliffside Park , New Jersey is my hometown .
I have always loved the fact that my hood and my affliction share the same initials .
I also love the fact that if I wanted to walk from my house to New York City , I could .
A lot of people with C.P . do n't walk , but my parents did n't believe in `` ca n't . '' My father 's mantra was , `` You can do it , yes you can can . '' ( Laughter ) So , if my three older sisters were mopping , I was mopping .
If my three older sisters went to public school , my parents would sue the school system and guarantee that I went too , and if we did n't all get A 's , we all got my mother 's slipper .
( Laughter ) My father taught me how to walk when I was five years old by placing my heels on his feet and just walking .
Another tactic that he used is he would dangle a dollar bill in front of me and have me chase it .
( Laughter ) My inner stripper was very strong , and by -- ( Laughter ) Yeah . No , by the first day of kindergarten , I was walking like a champ who had been punched one too many times .
Growing up , there were only six Arabs in my town , and they were all my family .
Now there are 20 Arabs in town , and they are still all my family . ( Laughter ) I do n't think anyone even noticed we were n't Italian .
( Laughter ) ( Applause ) This was before 9/11 and before politicians thought it was appropriate to use `` I hate Moslems '' as a campaign slogan .
The people that I grew up with had no problem with my faith .
They did , however , seem very concerned that I would starve to death during Ramadan .
I would explain to them that I have enough fat to live off of for three whole months , so fasting from sunrise to sunset is a piece of cake .
I have tap-danced on Broadway .
Yeah , on Broadway . It 's crazy . ( Applause ) My parents could n't afford physical therapy , so they sent me to dancing school .
I learned how to dance in heels , which means I can walk in heels .
And I 'm from Jersey , and we are really concerned with being chic , so if my friends wore heels , so did I .
And when my friends went and spent their summer vacations on the Jersey Shore , I did not .
I spent my summers in a war zone , because my parents were afraid that if we did n't go back to Palestine every single summer , we 'd grow up to be Madonna .
( Laughter ) Summer vacations often consisted of my father trying to heal me , so I drank deer 's milk , I had hot cups on my back , I was dunked in the Dead Sea , and I remember the water burning my eyes and thinking , `` It 's working ! It 's working ! '' ( Laughter )
But one miracle cure we did find was yoga .
I have to tell you , it 's very boring , but before I did yoga , I was a stand-up comedian who ca n't stand up .
And now I can stand on my head .
My parents reinforced this notion that I could do anything , that no dream was impossible , and my dream was to be on the daytime soap opera `` General Hospital . '' I went to college during affirmative action and got a sweet scholarship to ASU , Arizona State University , because I fit every single quota .
I was like the pet lemur of the theater department .
Everybody loved me .
I did all the less-than-intelligent kids ' homework , I got A 's in all of my classes , A 's in all of their classes .
Every time I did a scene from `` The Glass Menagerie , '' my professors would weep .
But I never got cast .
Finally , my senior year , ASU decided to do a show called `` They Dance Real Slow in Jackson . '' It 's a play about a girl with C.P .
I was a girl with C.P .
So I start shouting from the rooftops , `` I 'm finally going to get a part ! I have cerebral palsy ! Free at last ! Free at last ! Thank God almighty , I 'm free at last ! '' I did n't get the part . ( Laughter ) Sherry Brown got the part .
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 did n't think I could do the stunts .
I said , `` Excuse me , if I ca n't do the stunts , neither can the character . '' ( Laughter ) ( Applause ) This was a part that I was literally born to play and they gave it , they gave it to a non-palsy actress .
College was imitating life .
Hollywood has a sordid history of casting able-bodied actors to play disabled onscreen .
Upon graduating , I moved back home , and my first acting gig was as an extra on a daytime soap opera .
My dream was coming true .
And I knew that I would be promoted from `` diner diner '' to `` wacky best friend '' in no time .
But instead , I remained a glorified piece of furniture that you could only recognize from the back of my head , and it became clear to me that casting directors did n't hire fluffy , ethnic , disabled actors .
They only hired perfect people .
But there were exceptions to the rule .
I grew up watching Whoopi Goldberg , Roseanne Barr , Ellen , and all of these women had one thing in common : they were comedians .
So I became a comic .
( Laughter ) ( Applause )
My first gig was driving famous comics from New York City to shows in New Jersey , and I 'll never forget the face of the first comic I ever drove when he realized that he was speeding down the New Jersey Turnpike with a chick with C.P . driving him .
I 've performed in clubs all over America , and I 've also performed in Arabic in the Middle East , uncensored and uncovered .
Some people say I 'm the first stand-up comic in the Arab world .
I never like to claim first , but I do know that they never heard that nasty little rumor that women are n't funny , and they find us hysterical .
In 2003 , my brother from another mother and father Dean Obeidallah and I started the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival , now in its 10th year .
Our goal was to change the negative image of Arab-Americans in media , while also reminding casting directors that South Asian and Arab are not synonymous .
( Laughter ) Mainstreaming Arabs was much , much easier than conquering the challenge against the stigma against disability .
My big break came in 2010 .
I was invited to be a guest on the cable news show `` Countdown With Keith Olbermann . '' I walked in looking like I was going to the prom , and they shuffle me into a studio and seat me on a spinning , rolling chair .
So I looked at the stage manager and I 'm like , `` Excuse me , can I have another chair ? '' And she looked at me and she went , `` Five , four , three , two ... '' And we were live , right ?
So I had to grip onto the anchor 's desk so that I would n't roll off the screen during the segment , and when the interview was over , I was livid .
I had finally gotten my chance and I blew it , and I knew I would never get invited back .
But not only did Mr. Olbermann invite me back , he made me a full-time contributor , and he taped down my chair .
( Laughter ) ( Applause )
One fun fact I learned while on the air with Keith Olbermann was that humans on the Internet are scumbags .
People say children are cruel , but I was never made fun of as a child or an adult .
Suddenly , my disability on the world wide web is fair game .
I would look at clips online and see comments like , `` Yo , why 's she tweakin ? '' `` Yo , is she retarded ? '' And my favorite , `` Poor Gumby-mouth terrorist .
What does she suffer from ?
We should really pray for her . '' One commenter even suggested that I add my disability to my credits : screenwriter , comedian , palsy .
Disability is as visual as race .
If a wheelchair user ca n't play Beyoncé , then Beyoncé ca n't play a wheelchair user .
The disabled are the largest — Yeah , clap for that , man . C'mon .
( Applause ) People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world , and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment .
The doctors said that I would n't walk , but I am here in front of you .
However , if I grew up with social media , I do n't think I would be .
I hope that together we can create more positive images of disability in the media and in everyday life .
Perhaps if there were more positive images , it would foster less hate on the Internet .
Or maybe not .
Maybe it still takes a village to teach our children well .
My crooked journey has taken me to some very spectacular places .
I got to walk the red carpet flanked by soap diva Susan Lucci and the iconic Lorraine Arbus .
I got to act in a movie with Adam Sandler and work with my idol , the amazing Dave Matthews .
I toured the world as a headliner on Arabs Gone Wild .
I was a delegate representing the great state of New Jersey at the 2008 DNC .
And I founded Maysoon 's Kids , a charity that hopes to give Palestinian refugee children a sliver of the chance my parents gave me .
But the one moment that stands out the most was when I got -- before this moment -- ( Laughter ) ( Applause ) — but the one moment that stands out the most was when I got to perform for the man who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee , has Parkinson 's and shakes just like me , Muhammad Ali .
( Applause )
It was the only time that my father ever saw me perform live , and I dedicate this talk to his memory .
( In Arabic )
My name is Maysoon Zayid , and if I can can , you can can .
( Applause )