Commencement 2024

Yasser Saleh: Making a Difference as a Disabled Journalist

Yasser Saleh has been passionate about sports since grade school, especially wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA), and basketball. His cerebral palsy made competing difficult, so he entertained his friends with play-by-play sports commentary.

"At nine, they let me rap on the loudspeaker for the whole school for Poetry Day," he said. "From then on, I thought, 'I need to be that guy on the big stage."

But as Saleh thought about it further, he challenged himself by narrowing his list down to things he saw himself doing within that framework, which included rapper, actor, lawyer, and commentator. "I said, let me stick to journalism," Saleh explained.

When enrolled in college, Saleh self-identified as a disabled student and worked with accommodations specialists at York. He took advantage of professors' office hours, in-person or via telephone. "Professors Hughes, Moore, Wani, and Lewis were great. Our communication may have been more in-depth than the typical student," he said. "But they were more receptive to helping me when they saw how passionate I was about the work despite my psychophysical challenges."

Saleh pointed out that people can't always see someone's disabilities. When he first enrolled at York in 2019 he used a walker, but when he returned in 2022, he didn't need one. Many physical presences and cues recognizable as challenges weren't there. The challenges he faced, however, were adapting to the college social setting as a person with an invisible disability – an experience people without noticeable physical disabilities find themselves in when individuals assume a “disability” is only physically visible. "I was not letting that be a defining factor in my life that determined my success,” he explained.

The York's Journalism Department assisted Saleh in obtaining an internship at WBAI, where he worked with Program Director Linda Perry. "She helped rein me in and hone my skills and taught me how to work in a professional environment," he said. "I had a lot of raw talent, but it needed to be polished." Saleh got to produce a segment for one of Perry's shows titled "Disability in Action." What he remembers most about his experience at WBAI is that she told him he had a magic voice. "That kept me going in the field," Saleh said.

Sports remains one of Selah's passions, and one way he fulfills this passion is through his "Chokehold" podcast, where he discusses, you guessed it, MMA and wrestling. But late last year, he also took a class with Telemundo, an American Spanish-language television network owned by NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises. Selah pitched an idea on wage inequality across women's sports.

His experience at WBAI emboldened Saleh so much that he decided to apply to graduate school after graduating in December 2023. "I talked to my professors about what options they thought would be best regarding education, value and affordability. They said the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY." Saleh not only applied and got accepted, but he was offered a full scholarship. When he visited his new campus, he immediately felt at home. "This is where I belong; it felt like a very natural transition," he said.

Saleh considers himself a jack of all trades. "I'm versatile with the way I approach journalism. If you need me to write a story, I can write. I can do audio pieces and street interviews," he said. “The only thing I need to work on is editing because of my disability. But I am going to figure that out too."