David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

Let’s Stop Giving Oscars to Actors Who Play the Disabled, and Start Letting the Disabled Play Themselves.

Actress and comedian Maysoon Zayid, who lives with cerebral palsy, says that the disabled are the largest minority group in the world, and the only one you can join at any time.

Maysoon Zayid:  I have cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder; also it's a traumatic brain injury that happens either in utero, during the birthing process, or within the first couple of months of life. So a 26-year-old can't get cerebral palsy. It's not genetic. You can't catch it. Even though I have seen people become a bit more spilly around me it's not contagious; I promise. My cerebral palsy happened during birth. The doctor who delivered me was drunk and I came out fist first ready to fight the power and he panicked and cut my mom six different times in six different directions. And as a result I lost oxygen. That loss of oxygen damaged the part of my brain that handles coordination. And as a result I shake all the time.

Now, it's really important to remember cerebral palsy is a spectrum, so different people with CP have different symptoms; they have different abilities.  Some people use wheelchairs; some people are mobile; some are verbal; some are nonverbal. That doesn't mean that we're intellectually superior in any way to our counterparts who have less or more ability, but cerebral palsy can also happen alongside other disabilities. So there are people with CP and mental illness; there are people with CP and respiratory problems and there are people like me who just have CP. And I work really hard to keep my health up. And I think that having a disability is often thought of as like this poor person and she's always struggling. And I don't really think of my CP that way. I think of it as part of me. It doesn't define me. There are days where I hate it and there are days where I don't even think about it.


I'm a person who watches TV all the time, all the time; I love TV. And I really think that the media heavily influences how we as a society behave towards each other. And one of the things that I find to be lacking on television are positive images of diversity. Hollywood talks a lot about diversity and I think that the definition is wrong. It's not about having, you know, one person of this color and one person of this gender and one person of this; it's about actually including those people and allowing them to tell their stories and creating images that mirror those in the real world. And one of the places that I feel this is the most necessary is with people with disabilities. People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world. We cross all races, classes, religion, gender; we're the minority group that you can join when you don't want to at any time in your life.

And we are the most underrepresented on media and television. And when you do see disability on television we're reduced to two storylines. Either heal me or you can't love me because I'm disabled. We're never full-fledged characters that fall in love, maybe have kids, maybe get in a catfight. We're reduced to these snowflake, angel, eternal children and the fact that people with disabilities grow up and that we're functioning members of society and that we're not just here to bleed the system is not something that I see on TV.

In addition to that, roles of people with disability are often played by actors who do not have those disabilities and those actors often take home awards. Meanwhile, the disabled community is watching this and to us it looks like a caricature because we don't believe that visible disability is something that you can act; we feel like it's something more like race where yes there's a visible component, but there's also an internalization that an actor that's just mimicking twitches is not capturing. So we're shut out from playing the wacky best friend when there's no reason that we should be, but we're also shut out from playing the roles of actual people with disabilities. I believe that the reason I encountered so much hate after my first big TV appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann was because people are not used to seeing disability on TV so they thought it was okay to guess what I had. I was there to talk about politics. We did not address my disability. And when I went home and Googled myself like any egomaniacal actress with a dream does, I saw people saying it's Botox gone wrong. It's bad surgery. She's drunk. She's drugged. She's Muslim; maybe her husband beat her. And my favorite one: poor Gumby mouth terrorist; we should probably pray for her.

So, I felt like if people were more exposed to positive images of disability, to characters like Radar from M*A*S*H who were just there and were great and were part of the system. Or if one of the girlfriends on Big Bang Theory or a gladiator on Scandal was a wheelchair user or had cerebral palsy or was actually blind, that people would then consider us as equals. But right now we're plot devices and we're these horrible news packages that you see on like Good Morning America, these inspirational stories that really dehumanize us because it's like aren't you surprised this person with a disability was able to tie their shoes? And that's a big accomplishment for a lot of people and I'm not downplaying that. But at the same time why don't you ever see the lawyers, the doctors, the wives, the mothers? You never see those images when you're being exposed to disability on television.



Outside of RJ Mitte, who played Walt Jr. on Breaking Bad, there are very few actors with disabilities who get the chance to tell their own stories on television. Actress and comedian Maysoon Zayid, who like Mitte was born with cerebral palsy, discusses her disability in this Big Think interview while also stressing the importance of positive media portrayals of people with disabilities. "When you do see disability on television," she says, "we're reduced to two storylines. Either 'heal me' or 'you can't love me because I'm disabled.'" Zayid hopes someday soon television will make a stronger commitment to actors with disabilities.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Keep reading Show less

How Hemingway felt about fatherhood

Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

Ernest Hemingway Holding His Son 1927 (Wikimedia Commons)
Culture & Religion

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?

Keep reading Show less

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less

The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
Keep reading Show less