2013 Media Access Awards
The number of characters in films and on TV with disabilities is still "abysmally small." But this year’s Media Access Awards casts a spotlight on the success stories and the individuals who championed diversity. The WGAW’s David Shore, Norman Lear and George R.R. Martin were among them.   

(November 1, 2013) 

Photo: Alex Wyman (AP)
George R.R. Martin 

Photo: Alex Wyman (AP)
Norman Lear 

When David Shore created the character of Dr. Gregory House, the brilliant, pill-popping misanthropic diagnostician on the award-winning series House, he intended him to be a wheelchair user, but the network nixed it. “The cane was the compromise,” Shore told the audience at the recent 2013 Media Access Awards event. Ironically, over time, House’s disability seemed almost incidental, eclipsed by actor Hugh Laurie’s portrayal and the sheer quality of the series storytelling. Concedes Shore, who was presented this year’s Evan Somers Memorial Award. “I’m here being honored for showing the world that a person with disabilities can be an a--hole.”

Photo: Alex Wyman (AP)
David Shore 

Shore was among an impressive group of honorees and presenters who collectively, through their work, supported the portrayal of people with disabilities in movies, television and New Media. Television writer/producer Normal Lear, who founded the Media Access Awards along with Fern Fields and Norman G. Brooks, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Geri Jewell, whom Lear cast in the 1980s series The Facts of Life, making her the first actor with cerebral palsy to appear in a TV series. And WGA member George R.R. Martin, a screen/television writer and producer whose epic fantasy novels were adapted for HBO’s series Game of Thrones, was recipient of the 2013 Visionary Award. Other award recipients: Jenni Gold (SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award), for her documentary Cinemability; casting agent Deedee Bradley (Casting Society of America Award), who cast a deaf lead character in the ABC Family series Switched at Birth; producer Bruce Cohen (Producer’s Guild of America’s George Sunga Award), for his exploration of bipolar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook; Breaking Bad actor RJ Mitte (SAG-AFTRA Harold Russell Award), who portrayed a young man with cerebral palsy in the series; and Santina Muha (Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Scholarship) and Ryan Lane (RJ Mitte Diversity Award).

Despite the contributions of this year’s honorees, the paucity of disabled characters in television and film remains a persistent problem. Although 56 million Americans are living with some kind of a disability, their representation in TV and movies is a paltry 2%. “The number is abysmally small,” notes Allen Rucker, Chairman of the WGAW’s Writers with Disabilities Committee. “For every show featuring a character with a disability that comes on -- The Michael J. Fox Show, Ironside -- another goes off -- Breaking Bad, Ironside. It's like walking in quicksand. Characters with disabilities are still considered an occasional novelty, not an integral part of the TV/film world.”

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Read about the WGAW’s Writers With Disabilities Committee