Laughing our way to disability inclusion with Christina Applegate

A recent appearance at the Emmys provided much-needed representation

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

Share this article:

Share article via email
banner for

It had to be something special for me to break my silence on X (formerly known as Twitter). I had to share my support for actress Christina Applegate after she appeared at this year’s Emmy Awards in mid-January.

Applegate has multiple sclerosis (MS), which has many similarities to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), the condition I live with. Both diseases cause lesions in the central nervous system that can impair mobility, organ function, and vision.

At the Emmys, Applegate was tasked with presenting the nominees for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series” and then awarding the winner. As she walked out to the podium, cane in hand and accompanied by an escort, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

Here’s the thing, though: Disease can happen to anyone at any moment, which is why the standing ovation made me uncomfortable. To me, the applause felt patronizing, as if everyone was saying, “You’re so brave for coming out and being seen with your disability.” Rare disease patients have no alternative to living our lives. We don’t have to stay at home in hiding just because we have NMOSD.

That is what is so inspiring about Applegate. Despite her MS diagnosis, she has obviously decided to continue living her best life. By agreeing to present at the Emmys, Applegate, who was dressed in a sexy, red-velvet, Christian Siriano gown, made an appearance and used humor to help normalize disability.

Recommended Reading
banner for

What the outside world might not understand about life with NMOSD

It’s OK to laugh at our disease

At the podium, she said, “You’re totally shaming me [and my] disability by standing up. It’s fine. OK. Body not by Ozempic.” I laughed so hard at her matter-of-fact attitude toward disability. Afterward, though, I felt grateful for the representation, so I sent a shout-out to the actress on X.

So, is it OK to laugh at disability?

The saying that “laughter is the best medicine” is derived from Proverbs 17:22. When it comes to my NMOSD, I’ve always agreed, because the alternative to laughter is anger or tears. As long as we’re laughing with those who are disabled, and not at those facing medical challenges, then laughter can help normalize disease. When we laugh together, we are being inclusive.

My pug, Magnus, occasionally likes to army-crawl across a rug or our bed for attention. It always makes us laugh, and eventually, one of us will ask, “Magnus, do your legs not work?” Then, as he drags his hind legs behind him, I’ll say, “Stop making fun of your mama! Your legs work just fine!” I’m referring — with humor — to my transverse myelitis attack in 2009, which left my legs paralyzed for several months. Now, I live with residual numbness and occasional pain, and yes, sometimes it looks like I’m dragging a leg around.

The more celebrities normalize disease and operate like other people living with a disability, the more accepting society becomes of those who don’t fit the standard mold. Those of us with disabilities can work, present awards, be sexy, and even laugh at ourselves.

Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.