Ruderman Family Foundation Awarded Actors Union 2017 SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award

The Ruderman Family Foundation, an international leader in advocating for the full inclusion of people with disabilities across all sectors of society, has been awarded as this year’s recipient of the 2017 SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award. The organization, which has been a champion for disability inclusion within the TV and film industry, was presented with the award at the Media Access Awards on November 17 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The Disability Awareness Award honors a SAG-AFTRA member with a disability or an organization that has made significant contributions in raising the visibility and awareness of disability issues in the broadcast, sound recording, and entertainment industries.

This year’s winner was announced just days before the Ruderman Inclusion Summit, an international gathering of over 1,400 activists from around the world aiming to advance disability rights across a wide array of sectors, which took place November 19-20 in Boston.

The Ruderman Family Foundation was given the prestigious award due to its significant contributions and the impact it has had in the TV and film industry for people with disabilities—a topic that was also highlighted at the Summit. Over the past year alone, the Foundation has become a leading voice for the rights of people with disabilities in the industry, speaking out against a number of unfair practices and the persistent casting of non-disabled actors to play characters with disabilities.

A dedicated panel at the Ruderman Inclusion Summit discussed Hollywood’s most unrepresented minority - people with disabilities - and the need for better disability inclusion in all aspects of the film and television industry. The panel featured Wendy Calhoun, Executive Producer and Writer for Fox's hit series Empire; Danny Woodburn, actor, activist, and comedian; CJ Jones, deaf actor with a recent appearance in Edgar Wright’s movie Baby Driver; long time Hollywood inclusion activist and co-creator of Lights! Camera! Access!2.0 Tari Hartman Squire; and actress Eileen Grubba.

At the Summit’s opening plenary, deaf Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin delivered an inspiring keynote speech that spoke to her own experience as the first deaf actor to win an Academy Award, and while some things have improved, the industry is still a far cry from full representation of people with disabilities.

“Even just this past week, when the Directors Guild of America reported a record number of episodes directed by women and minorities, no statistics were provided regarding representation for America’s largest minority, the community of people with disabilities,” said Matlin. “That’s because in all the current conversations regarding diversity, authenticity in casting and inclusion in all aspects of the entertainment industry, people with disabilities are simply left out.”

Last summer the Foundation launched the Ruderman TV Challenge, a call to pilot season creators to audition and cast more people with disabilities. The challenge was built upon the widely-covered Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities, a study which found that an astonishing 95% of top show characters with disabilities on TV are played by non-disabled actors. Last year also saw entertainment industry heads and actors come together in LA for the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion, which brought the industry together to work toward the goal of inclusion and full representation.

“We are incredibly honored to be the recipients of this year’s SAG-AFTRA Disability Awareness Award,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “While the entertainment industry has been making great strides toward authentic inclusion of people with disabilities, there is still so much work that remains to be done and we are heartened to be in such good company among all the previous years’ winners.”