People with disabilities — aka the world’s invisible minority — were saluted Friday at the annual Media Access Awards, with producer John Murray reminding that their presence onscreen is not just appropriate, “it’s also good business.”
Murray (“The Real World,” “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”) was given the PGA George Sunga Award, one of seven prizes handed out at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Murray said that people with disabilities, or PWD, “have been placed on the margins and sidelines of TV.” He pointed out that his A&E reality-show “Born This Way,” about seven individuals with Down syndrome, increased viewership more than 80% during its first season, so depiction “is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good business.”
Scott Silveri, creator-writer of ABC’s “Speechless,” was a double winner. He and fellow producers Melvin Mar and Jake Kasdan were honored for series with the SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award, while Silveri himself also took home the WGAW Evan Somers Memorial Award.
“We weren’t looking to do anything revolutionary, we were just looking to tell a story,” Silveri said. He thanked the educators and advocacy-rights champions who have been fighting for years to open the doors “that we were able to walk through.”
Danny Woodburn was given the Media Access Norman Lear-Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award, for his advocacy as well as his career. (Presenter Mark Povinelli dryly described Woodburn as “an icon of dwarf television.”)
Woodburn also doubled as emcee of the event. Speaking of President-elect Donald Trump, Woodburn said “He mocked us!” And that mockery, he predicted “will really get us moving.”
The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Scholarship went to MacGregor Arney, which is always given to an upcoming young actor. Presenting the award, Zach Weinstein said he became a father for the first time only 13 days ago, and he’s happy to know that his son will grow up in a world “where disability is going to be normalized.”
Casting director Susie Farris was given the CSA Award, for her work on “Mr. Robot” and “Speechless,” among others.
Actress Jamie Brewer of “American Horror Story” received the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award, earning her the only standing ovation of the day. Brewer, who has Down syndrome, gave an emotional speech, talking about the opportunity of “finding our true selves within our work.”
The event was organized by SAG-AFTRA, the Producers Guild of America, Writers Guild of America and the Casting Society of America; the event is intended to honor individuals and to raise industry awareness.
The co-chairs of the event were Deb Calla and Alan Rucker. Among those in attendance were J.K. Simmons, Geri Jewell, Margaret Nagle, Micah Fowler, Kyla Kenedy, Mason Cook, Cedric Yarbrough, Katie Leclerc, Chad Coleman and Drew Tappon.