Hollywood was saluted on Friday for its depictions of people with disabilities at the Media Access Awards, which honoree Nic Novicki quipped was “like the Oscars, but with more wheelchairs and sign language.”
Novicki said that people with disabilities represent 20% of the population, making them “the largest minority group in the country.”
Celebs in attendance included Norman Lear (who got the only standing ovation), Michael Keaton, Jacob Tremblay and Jason George, but the spotlight was on the people in the audience who work hard to remind the industry that disabilities are under-represented, even with all the diversity-inclusion conversations.
The event, produced by Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker, was held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
Individuals and organizations were honored with eight trophies, including Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman, the Producers Guild of America Award; Telsey + Company, the Casting Society of America Award; producer Fern Field with the Norman Lear-Geri Jewell Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Ruderman Family Foundation, SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award.
Also, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, WGAW excellence in writing award; Robia Rashid, WGAW Evan Somers memorial award; Novicki, the SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell award; and Mickey Rowe, given the Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship.
Lear and Field were among the founders of the first Media Access Awards in 1979 and they pioneered depictions of disability; they also hired Geri Jewell for “Facts of Life” in 1980, the first person with disabilities on a sitcom. Keaton joined Lear and Field onstage, recalling that he starred in a short about disabilities for Field back in 1978, “A Different Approach,” which was Oscar nominated.
Lieberman and Hoberman have produced multiple movies via their Mandeville Films, including a trio in 2017: “Stronger,” “Wonder” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Actor Novicki created the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, in which filmmakers (with or without disabilities) are invited to complete a short film in a single weekend. Rowe is the first actor on the autism spectrum to star in Christopher Boone’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a play that centers on the topic.
The event was hosted by actor Oliver Trevena and Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School. Girma joked that “public speaking is easy when you can’t see the audience.”