People with disabilities shouldn’t have to try and pass as able in the workplace, says writer and comedian Maysoon Zayid. But the sad reality is that America’s largest minority remains invisible throughout popular media.
“When people talk about diversity,” says Zayid, “they’re not talking about people with disabilities.” And even though 25 years have passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed, it’s still seen as okay to exclude the deaf, the blind, and others with disabilities.
Maysoon Zayid: Being a comedian and having a disability, I didn't find many challenges with work. Being someone who dreams on TV, being someone who is a writer, being someone who is an actress, I feel like entertainment and broadcast news ignore the fact that ADA also applies to them. This was signed 25 years ago and most workplaces still ignore its existence. They still think that accommodating is an option because of the word "reasonable" accommodations. And I work with people with disabilities who are in their 20s and 30s or they're just graduating college and they're terrified for the person interviewing them to know they have a disability. They're trying so hard to get through the process and pass as able. That's not the world that we should live in at all. And that is the reality for so many people.
If you turn on the TV, we're invisible. We're not present on daytime talk shows, panel shows, soap operas, morning news shows. We're not the anchors. We're not the hosts. We're not even guest co-hosts. And I was watching a very famous cable newswoman who's known for her intersectionality; she said live on television, "We cannot invite wheelchair users into the studio because our studio is not accessible." I had been in that studio. It was built two years ago. Why are they still building studios that are not accessible in this day and age? Why? Because we're not thought of. We're not thought of. When people talk about diversity, they're not talking about people with disabilities. They are not. We've been completely run over in the intersection of intersectionality. You would think since we're the largest minority that everyone bumps into at least one disabled people and they know disabled people. Guess what, that's not the reality. I don't know how; I don't know why, but I've had people tell me you know he never saw anyone like you before. And I think it comes back to storybooks, to television, to really actively making sure that it's not one character for one episode in a wheelchair that disappears the next day. Look at Sesame Street. When I was growing up Sesame Street had a deaf woman. That changed my perception. She was part of this normal world that has Muppets, but like this world that I was so accustomed to. Just like old people like Mr. Hooper, who died and taught me what death was. And those images are gone. So there's a couple of characters that do have disabilities sprinkled throughout children's television, but it's not something that you're seeing often enough.