There’s been a process of catching up when it comes to the industry and those with disabilities. Despite one-in-four people having a disability in the United States, disability representation in Hollywood remains abysmal and it’s often reflected in the complete dearth of disabled narratives, actors, and creators making the rounds at awards shows. Just 48 hours ago, the Television Academy and CBS announced that this year’s Emmys would be the most inclusive ever, with a ramp making access to the stage open to all comers.
But you might not have seen it during Sunday’s ceremony. The only discernible access point for anyone with a wheelchair or a mobility impairment was a wide swath of flat ground on the left side of everyone’s television that was flush with the floor. All presenters and winners climbed a series of stairs, either to access the main, pyramid-esque stage or another separate stage. Even Paralympian Jennifer Long, who uses leg prostheses, had to be aided up these stairs.
“Crip Camp” co-director James LeBrecht immediately took to Twitter, claiming CBS and the Television Academy lied to him about the inclusion of a ramp. LeBrecht is the reason people were talking about the ramp in the first place. With the aid of Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) and lawyer Michelle Uzeta, LeBrecht had already filed an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint against both entities, with CBS responding that they would be designing an “ADA-compliant ramp” that was “fully integrated” and “visible” — none of which LeBrecht, or several of those who know the wheelchair-using director, noticed during Sunday’s ceremony.
LeBrecht, speaking to IndieWire, said he felt that the attorney who emailed him on behalf of CBS lied, especially as the letter claimed that the stage was created “in a manner that is more inclusive than anything required by the ADA.” In watching the ceremony, he couldn’t see how anyone with a disability could be able to avoid the stairs.
CBS did not respond to a request for comment.
A source told IW that there is a permanently constructed ramp on the left-hand side and that producers did reach out to ask if anyone needed the use of a ramp, which no one did. LeBrecht said that is not at all in line with what he was told. “They don’t know who would have benefited from a ramp,” he said. “They don’t know what the physical requirements are of anybody.”
LeBrecht said by asking people if they require ramps it compels attendees to disclose that they have a disability. “Do they want to force people to reveal their disability and then risk their careers due to stigma?” he said.
The pain stings even more considering Television Academy CEO Frank Scherma took to the stair-flanked platform to praise marginalized creatives, including the disabled, during the telecast. Ironically, he did not tout the ramp he had praised in trade interviews leading up to the awards.
As far as LeBrecht’s concerned, the issue is not over. “I’ll certainly be consulting with the lawyers that I’ve been working with,” he said.