Media Access Awards – 2003 Gala Event

Circa 2003
pictures of Barry Manilow with Diana Schuur, Joe Mantegna with Vern Troyer, Montel Williams
Top: Barry Manilow with Diana Schuur, Joe Mantegna with Vern Troyer, and Montel Williams

At the 21st Annual Media Access Awards, Hollywood entertainers were on hand to help celebrate the accomplishments of the media and entertainment industry. The ceremony, which used to honor one media and entertainment industry professional who accurately portrayed a person with a disability, has blossomed into an event that also recognizes performances by qualified actors with disabilities.

The California Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities (CGCEPD) established the Media Access Office in 1980 when it realized the potential of the media and entertainment industry to promote social change toward people with disabilities. The Media Access Office is doing its part to shape the economic recovery in the state of California by enhancing the employment opportunities of people with disabilities in a multi-billion dollar industry that employs over 350,000 people throughout the state.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one in five Americans has a disability. One recent study, however, found that fewer than 1 percent of all primetime characters on television has a disability, highlighting the misrepresentation in the media of Americans with disabilities.

The ability of the media and entertainment industry to create a common ground for people from all walks of life is the foundation that allows it to thoroughly address dynamic issues in society. Definite stigma and stereo types still surround people with disabilities. The diverse culture of America has no room for undue discrimination, which is why the Media Access Office was created in an attempt to break down the barriers for people with disabilities.

Despite the poor representation of characters with dis abilities on primetime television there has been a 23 per cent increase in the number of performers that have been hired through the Media Access Office from 2000 to 2002. The number of applications submitted for work in the media and entertainment industry for 2003 has sur passed those from 2002 and continues to grow as the year comes to an end.

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Pictures of Charlie Kaplan, Douglas Gordy with Gail Williamson, Melissa Gilbert, Gloria, & Peter farrelly with Matt Daman, Greg Kinnear, Bobby Farrelly
Top Charlie Kaplan, Douglas Gordy with Gail Williamson, Melissa Gilbert, Gloria, & Peter Farrelly with Matt Daman, Greg Kinnear, Bobby Farrelly

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation received the 2003 Governor’s Award of Excellence for promoting general awareness and dignity for people with disabilities. CSI is one of the few network programs to have hired a per former with a disability as a series regular (Robert David Hall as Dr. Robbins) and to use numerous story lines about people with disabilities. For instance, one crime scene was set in the midst of an annual gathering of Little People and introduced multiple issues that they con front in their everyday lives.

Producers Avi Arad and Gary Foster received the Outstanding Awareness of Disability in the Media Award for their work in the movie Daredevil. A consultant who is blind was hired to ensure the authenticity of the movie’s blind hero. Daredevil reached out to film-lovers who are often overlooked by using closed-captioning and video description on both the big screen and DVD versions.

Diane Schuur, a two-time Grammy award-winning jazz vocalist and winner of the AFTRA (American Federation of Radio and Television Artists) Disability Aware ness Award for a recording artist, entertained the crowd of approximately 350 people with a live performance.

Montel Williams was the AFTRA Disability Awareness Award recipient for news and broadcasting. “Montel gave a dynamic and impassioned speech about his own disability and disability rights in general,” according to the Media Access Office program specialist and casting liaison, Doug Gordy. He adds, “I think it really galvanized the whole audience.”

The Media Access Office offers its services to over 900 performers with disabilities. The office serves as a casting liaison for its members as well as providing script consultation on disability issues and themes. Classes and scholarships for adults and children with disabilities are offered to encourage and develop the competitive skills needed in the media and entertainment industry.

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Program coordinator and casting liaison for the Media Access Office. Gail Castaneda, believes that the number of performers with disabilities who are hired does not tell the whole story. “To get an actor or actress on film is the most important part of the Media Access Office.” said Castaneda. “To see these actors in a positive light is what will change society’s attitudes and stereotypes.”

As writers, directors and producers. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, commonly known as the Farrelly brothers. consistently uphold the mission of the Media Access Office. The makers of such films as Shallow Hal and There’s Something About Mary, they were honored this year with the Michael Landon Award for their commitment to advance and include people with disabilities in the media and entertainment industry. During

this comedic race (due out next summer) that only a visit to the theater will reveal. In the meantime, the Farrelly brothers will continue doing what they do best as they deliver laughter and awareness one great movie at a time.

by Phillip McRae

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