In 1987, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Marlee Matlin the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her heralding performance in the film Children of a Lesser God, symbolizing an unprecedented selection, as it was and continues to be, the only deaf actor to ever win the prestigious award.
Today, 30 years later, the Ruderman Family Foundation has chosen to award Matlin with its annual Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion, for her lifelong activism for people with disabilities. Matlin, who is Jewish, will receive the award during a dedicated ceremony in Israel this coming June on her first ever trip to the country.
However, even all this time later not much has changed for people with disabilities in Hollywood. Those with disabilities are still on the outside looking in, even while the topic of diversity at the Oscars is much discussed. Just last year, the Ruderman Family Foundation released a white paper that found an astonishing 95% of television characters with a disability in top TV shows are played by able-bodied actors.
In addition, the Foundation just recently launched the ‘Ruderman TV Challenge,’ designed to reach television executives and content creators calling on them to cast more actors with disabilities this pilot season – an initiative to which Matlin has contributed a call-to-action video. After tracking and studying the pilots picked up for production, the results will be released prior to the Emmys in September 2017.
“Marlee Matlin is the embodiment of a force that has broken down barriers and changed perceptions of people with disabilities worldwide. Her long and celebrated career in Hollywood serves as a shining example of the value of including people with disabilities in our society,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Matlin has forged a successful career as an actress, refusing to let her disability restrict her from achieving her dream. She has acted in over 60 film and television programs in her career, which includes an autobiography titled, “I’ll Scream Later” released in 2009. Outside of Children of a Lesser God, Matlin might be best known for her role in The West Wing, where she starred in seventeen episodes across all seasons.
The Award, now in its fourth year, was named after Morton E. Ruderman, a founder of the Ruderman Family Foundation. A successful entrepreneur, mentor and proud family man, he saw his success as the result of help he received from others and was therefore passionate about providing opportunities for others – including assisting many people in becoming independent and successful in business. In years’ prior, the award has gone to advocates from across the spectrum, including former Iowa Senator and driving force behind the Americans with Disability Act, Senator Tom Harkin, self-advocate Ari Ne’eman and Harvard Professor Dr. Michael Stein.