Disability and the Oscars

Right down to production design, the Oscars have not always felt like the most welcoming place for people with disabilities. The stage with its stage seems to be a symbol that they never expect people who have mobility issues to be nominated or win an award. 

This year shows signs of change. Jim LeBrecht, who has spina bifida and is the co-director and co-star of the Oscar nominated documentary “Crip Camp”, attended. So did Robert Tarango, the deaf-blind star of the nominated short “Feeling Through”.

The victor’s podium will be accessible for both. Hopefully, this will become a permanent change, both literally and figuratively.

Those two films along with “Sound of Metal” are nominated for six awards including best picture, and we hope this is the catalyst for Hollywood to stop using people with disabilities as sources of inspiration, objects of pity, or twisted villains. We hope the doors are open so that executives don’t look at the ability to hear or not to hear, and instead see that someone who is blind, deaf-blind, who has any kind of disability is just part of the world and can be part of films.

The academy, under pressure, has pushed for greater race and gender inclusion in recent years. Disabled performers and filmmakers can too often be forgotten in the discussion.

“It’s time that people recognize that diversity should include the disabled, the deaf-blind and the deaf community,” said Marlee Matlin, an
executive producer on “Feeling Through” and the only deaf actor to win an Oscar. “I hope that it’s not just the flavor of the year, that it goes beyond, and that this trend will continue.”

Traditionally, people with disabilities appear in films only when an actor seeking an Oscar-worthy role plays one on screen. Last year, only 2.3% of all speaking characters were depicted with a disability, much less played by an actor with one.

That has led to some disabled people feeling like “they’re stealing our stories,” said LeBrecht. “If we just realize that the stories around disabilities aren’t just about overcoming adversity or tragedy,” he said, “then I think we could see kind of the beginning of a golden age where finally people with disabilities show their true lives, their real life experiences.”