A Rising Tide

Posted by Allen Rucker in Daily Dose on December 15, 2022 # Lifestyle

allen rucker and deborah For the last thirteen years, I – along with my tireless partner, Deborah Calla – have been in charge of the annual Hollywood event called the Media Access Awards. On Thursday, November 17, the 2022 version streamed on ExtraTV.com. I know that’s way past when you are reading this, but that’s the beauty of streaming. You can see the show anytime you want here.

These awards, if they are new to you, celebrate outstanding work of the last year featuring disabled characters, storylines, and actors on television and in films. Created decades ago, by always prescient Norman Lear, all disabilities are honored. This year’s host is Deaf actor Lauren Ridloff, star of “The Walking Dead” and the Marvel movie, “Eternals.” The winners this year include Selma Blair, who has MS but still could dance her heart out on “Dancing With The Stars”; the cast of the autistic reality hit, “On The Spectrum”; and Oscar-winning director, Peter Farrelly (“The Green Book,” “Something About Mary”) who has dedicated his entire career to including the disabled in his movies. The entertainment on the show features post-polio survivor and musician/music producer, Chin Injeti, and three disabled stand-up comedians.

The annual Christopher Reeve Acting Scholarship, created by Christopher Reeve himself, goes this year to a very talented, fast-rising 13-year-old actor who was an orphan from Ukraine, born with Down syndrome, Sofia Sanchez. Like many other Reeve awardees in the past, she will no doubt go on to bigger things in Hollywood.

The increased appearance of people with disabilities in mainstream media is definitely having an effect. The raw numbers of employed disabled actors are still way off, but many disabled performances and shows are so brilliant and acclaimed that they enter the public conversation. Only in the past few years has the disabled-centric fair won such universal praise and popularity. We’ve seen very recent Oscar winners and nominees (“CODA,” Troy Kutsur. “Crip Camp”), Emmy winners (“Love on the Spectrum,” Peter Dinklage), Tony winners (Ali Stroker), and People Choice Award winners (“The Good Doctor”). These still infrequent but extraordinary programs and performers have given all disabled people more of a presence in American life. The Media Access Awards is a small but critical part of this progress.

allen rucker and jimmy kimmelA quick case in point is an echo in the overall awareness of disability. The victory in Pennsylvania of John Fetterman, a recent stroke victim, is a victory for all disabled people. Mental and intellectual disabilities garner the most superstition and prejudice and rank fear. The fact that millions of regular Middle Americans could see beyond Mr. Fetterman’s injury and measure him, in Martin Luther King’s words, “by the content of his character,” is another turning of the page. In fact, how he fought back so gallantly and openly against his impairment may have actually helped his campaign. In exit polls, voters gave him high marks for “honesty and integrity.”

For those of you too young to remember, exactly fifty years ago, in 1972, the Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate, Thomas Eagleton, was forced to resign within weeks of being selected by the Presidential candidate, George McGovern, for having received electroshock therapy for clinical depression. Eagleton was instantly stigmatized by pundits and politicians, even though he had been both a Missouri Senator and Lt. Governor dating back a decade. It was the kiss of political death. Today hundreds of thousands of people receive this treatment as part of their general therapy. In the post-ADA era, depression has never come up, as far as I know, as a disqualification for public office. But like Senator-elect Fetterman’s stroke, it won’t mean instant rejection.

I make no predictions, but as long as film and TV keep giving us authentic and memorable stories and public figures like Fetterman and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, e.g., both left and right-leaning, keep waylaying stigmas and fears, the future looks pretty damn bright.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.