Despite her rapid rise to stardom after portraying an anguished deaf janitor in "Children of a Lesser God," the hearing-impaired actress Marlee Matlin says she feels that "there are still barriers for disabled and hearing-impaired people."
"I pray and even hope that these can be broken," said the winner of this year's Oscar for best actress.
Matlin, who used sign language to convey her thoughts, was addressing a gathering of more than 550 people after receiving the individual achievement award at the ninth annual Media Access Awards banquet at the Los Angeles Hilton and Towers on Sunday night.
"There are barriers from the outside--that producers, that writers put up," she said in an interview after accepting the award.
Moreover, she said, "people have the barriers in their own minds."
Matlin was one of about two dozen actors, writers and behind-the-scenes workers with disabilities who were applauded for their professional achievements. Also honored were the companies that employed them in realistic portrayals in films, TV and radio, as well as in commercials and on the stage.
The event was sponsored by the California Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped in association with the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped and Pacific Telesis Foundation. Proceeds from the benefit go to the nonprofit Media Access Office, which provides casting services, script consultation, talent showcases and other services for disabled actors.
Alan Toy, actor and president of the Media Access Office, said "Children of a Lesser God" played a pioneering role in opening up the job market for disabled people.
" 'Children' really did open a lot of people's eyes," said director Randa Haines before the movie won the feature film award. "We cast the movie in an unusual way. We cast (10) deaf actors in all the roles," she added, noting that it took a six-month search to find Matlin for the starring role.
Also honored at the ceremony was Michael Landon Productions, which received one award for an episode of "Highway to Heaven" and another in the outstanding media employer category. Landon accepted the employer award from blind performer Tom Sullivan. "I'm very touched by this," a choked-up Landon said.
Director Neil Goldstein, whose documentary "Breaking Ground" captured another award, claimed that 27 hours of shows on TV last year featured disabled people. "It's wonderful in terms of where we are coming from," he said, "but it's an outrage in terms of the total picture of TV."
And the 20-year-old hearing-impaired actress and playwright Terrylene Theriot, whose one-act "Call Me Don't" won a special merit award, optimistically peered into the future.
"Our next step is to be seen for our talents, not our disabilities," she said. "And that word disability , let's throw it away."
A complete list of Media Access Awards includes:
Individual Achievement: Actress Marlee Matlin, star of "Children of a Lesser God."
Media Employer: Michael Landon Productions, "Highway to Heaven."
Feature Film: "Children of a Lesser God," Paramount Pictures.
Series as a Whole: "Cagney & Lacey," Orion Television, CBS.
Movie of the Week/Miniseries: "Promise," Garner/Duchow Productions, CBS.
Comedy Series/Episode: "Nine to Five: She Gives Good Phone," 20th Century Fox TV, syndicated.
Dramatic Series Episode: "Highway to Heaven: A Special Love," Michael Landon Productions, NBC.
Children's Programming: "Wonderworks: Walking on Air," produced by KCET-TV, PBS.
Daytime Drama: "The Young and the Restless," Columbia/Embassy Television, CBS.
News/Magazine Format: "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," Bob Dotson segments.
Documentary/Educational/PSA: "Breaking Ground," co-produced by KTLA-TV and Corporation on Disabilities and Telecommunications.
Special/Other: "1985 National Wheelchair Games," Video Sig.
Commercial: Levi's 501 commercials, produced by Foote, Cone, Belding advertising.
Contribution/Individual: Dr. Harry J. Murphy, director, Office of Veteran and Disabled Student Services, CSUN Northridge.
Contribution/Organization: Access Theatre in Santa Barbara.
Theatre: " 'Rangements," Group Repertory Company, North Hollywood.
Special Merit: "Ready, Willing and Abled," documentary by the state Dept. of Water Resources; Dianne Piastro, syndicated columnist, "Living With a Disability," Long Beach Press Telegram; Terrylene Theriot, playwright and actress, "Call Me Don't."
Governor's Award of Excellence: Hallmark Hall of Fame for its TV shows.
Cece Robinson Award: Corporation on Disabilities and Telecommunications, co-producers of "Breaking Ground" with KTLA.
Loreen Arbus Grant: Producer Julianna Fjeld and actor Mary Vreeland.
Easter Seal Scholarship: Child actors Robert Lee Thompson Jr. and Jade Calegory.