Wheelchairs In Tinseltown

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on November 05, 2015 # Mobility

Creating and sustaining an awards show from scratch isn't easy. Don't try it at home.

The Media Access Awards is the entertainment industry's only showcase for creators who help push the rock down the road by inventing characters and using actors with disabilities. In 2009, these awards were dead in the water. Created by Norman Lear decades ago, they had lost all funding and direction and had not been held for the two previous years. It seemed like a failed experiment. Finally some local disability activists gathered the creative guilds and unions together (WGA, SAG-AFTRA, etc.) and along with the Reeve Foundation, financed the first of the "new" Media Access Awards. It didn't make much of a splash at first, but it was up and running and hasn't stopped since.

What struck the people involved (including me) from the very beginning were the producers, writers, actors, and executives we honored felt equally honored to be so honored. For instance, the first person to receive the MAA's writing award was "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan. He had a moving story about a college roommate with cerebral palsy who inspired him to create Walter White, Jr, also with CP. We knew he felt strongly about the award because he brought his wife to the ceremony. In Hollywood, you don't bring your non-pro wife or husband to an event unless it means something to you.

Virtually every creative figure honored in the last six years has made the same emotional connection. It's long list full of A-team players, all of whom have made it their job to include characters with disabilities as an integral part of their programming. For example: Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Scandal," "How To Get Away with Murder"), George RR Martin ("Game of Thrones"), Peter Farrelly ("Something About Mary," "Me, Myself, and Irene," "The Ringer"), David Shore ("House"), Noah Hawley ("Fargo") The MAAs have also honored actors with disabilities like Marlee Matlin, Danny Woodburn, and R.J. Mitte, the actor with CP playing Walter White, Jr. Everyone of these people have walked away even more committed to dealing with the egregious absence of American with disabilities on TV and in film.

The one annual award most pertinent to this blog is a scholarship created by Christopher Reeve himself which gives a cash payment to a young actor with a disability to help further his or her career. Most are wheelchair users, but this year's recipient is a wonderful young actress, a single amputee, named Katherine Crawford. You see her in the accompanying photo with Reeve activist Adele Rene and Debby Flynn, Western Regional Director of the Reeve Foundation.

Other honorees this year are of typical high achievement, most notably the two writer-directors of "Still Alice," Wash Westinghouse and Richard Glatzer. Not only did they make a stellar film about early-onset Alzheimer's, but Richard did so while suffering from ALS and died a few weeks after Julianne Moore won the Oscar for playing Alice. The real star of the event -- and probably the best reason we do this in the first place -- was A.J. Jackson, a young quadriplegic and star of an amazing documentary called "Becoming Bulletproof," a film about the making of a film with an all-disabled cast. If you haven't seen or heard of the movie, you will. It's truly Academy Award material.

I know what you are saying: "If these awards draw all of these hotshot people, why haven't I seen them on Entertainment Tonight?" Because the show is not there yet. First of all, it's not broadcast on television, a major goal. But the main reason is that all the entertainment media care about are stars or fake stars, and though a few stars have hit the MAA red carpet (Jimmy Kimmel, Jane Lynch, William H. Macy), not enough have been lured to the event to get major ink. The ceremony has focused on the creators rather than the celebs -- big difference.

As I said, creating an awards show is daunting, but the future of the Media Access Awards is bright. The people committed to this event are building an annual spotlight for disability inclusion and building a Hollywood community that can get it done.

See you on "Entertainment Tonight."

© 2015 Allen Rucker | Like Allen on Facebook

Purchase Allen's book:
The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life

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.