Where Were the Actors with Disabilities at the Oscars?

A movie theatre with people all looking at a screenThe 2017 Academy Awards presentation was all about diversity. So where were the actors with disabilities?

A Los Angeles Times interview with Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin asks the same question. Matlin is deaf, and her Oscar for best actress in Children of a Lesser God marks the last time an actor with a disability won an Academy Award. The only other actor with a disability to ever win an Oscar was Harold Russell, a veteran who lost both hands during World War II. He earned two Oscars in 1947 for his role in The Best Years of Our Lives.

We at Easterseals are especially interested in what Marlee Matlin has to say about disability — she is an Easterseals Honorary Board Member. In last week’s interview the reporter asks Matlin what she thinks the state of opportunities out there for actors who have disabilities. Her answer:

“There are an amazing number of disabled actors out there, and not only in the United States. Even though 20% of the population has a disability, 2% of roles in Hollywood are for disabled characters and of that 2%, only 5% are played by people with disabilities. The rest are played by actors without disabilities.”

Matlin went on to say that she wishes casting directors would better understand the importance of acknowledging real diversity. “Diversity is a beautiful, absolutely wonderful thing, but I don’t think they consider people with disabilities as part of the diversity mandate.”

Marlee Matlin is an amazing advocate for people with disabilities and has shared her talent and her disability with a generation of TV watchers through notable roles on Reasonable Doubts, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Switched at Birth. Her television success is a wonderful demonstration of what people with disabilities can do — when given the chance.


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