When selected in-person attendees settle into their seats for the 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday night, they’ll see the stage feature a new addition: a ramp.
The accessible, front-end design was overseen by CBS Entertainment and the producers of the Primetime Emmys, following an ADA complaint filed Sept. 7 by the Disability Education and Advocacy Fund (DREDF) and lawyer Michelle Uzeta on behalf of James LeBrecht, who co-directed and co-produced the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp alongside Nicole Newnham.
LeBrecht was told that a ramp had been built Thursday evening, and according to the director, CBS confirmed to its representatives that “anyone seated in the audience will have unhindered access to an ADA compliant ramp” which “has was built as a visible and fully integrated part of the stage.
It’s a step towards wider, more standard accessibility to Hollywood award shows that LeBrecht says he supports, although it has been an effort at least six grueling weeks. For the disabled director and disability rights advocate, the muddled and slow communications from CBS Entertainment and the TV Academy meant that while the goal was met, questions remain as to whether entertainment institutions understand what was at the heart of its demand for disabled members of the entertainment industry.
Addressed to Executive Vice President, Diversity, Inclusion and Communications at CBS Entertainment Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i and TV Academy President Maury McIntyre, the complaint alleges that the TV Academy and CBS Entertainment violated the American Disabilities Act and the California Civil Rights. act before installing the ramp. Specifically, that the initial accommodations which were first shown to LeBrecht were insufficient to meet ADA standards as they did not actually provide “full and equal enjoyment … of any public accommodation”.
According to the complaint, the arrangements initially planned did not meet the interpretation of the law by LeBrecht and his legal representative. The record indicates that Smith-Anoa’i informed “that people who cannot climb the stairs to the stage can go backstage to access the stage,” with another suggestion that “a member of staff can bring a microphone in the people ‘seating area.
“Separation is never equal,” claims the complaint, adding that the backstage route would “not be a direct connection route” and another visibly the disabled winner. Both options ultimately fail to comply with the ADA while further conveying “disrespect and exclusion”.
LeBrecht said THR that he had been in contact with TV Academy and CBS Entertainment before filing the public complaint. “As the Emmys approached and followed Crip Campthe extraordinary experience of ‘s at the Oscars – where it wasn’t just respect for the law, but it was inclusion every step of the way that had an experience equal to people who could walk – I just wanted to try to make a change, ”he explained why he reached out.
He first referred the matter to the “management of the TV Academy” through one of its advisory boards, after which he was asked to pursue the matter with CBS Entertainment, as the decisions regarding the stage design and accessibility are left to the producers. a spectacle. (A representative from TV Academy confirmed this by redirecting THR to CBS for comment on this story.) That’s when LeBrecht says he and several others had a call with a CBS executive and started the conversation.
LeBrecht, who also sent out a long email about it, praised the executive for “really taking what we were talking about to heart and understanding the difference between compliance and inclusion, and what those lenses look like.” But he noted that he left with no answer as to how CBS Entertainment would approach its stage accessibility issue. Once he finally got a response, he said it was to offer the accommodations stated in the complaint.
“I appreciated the effort, but felt like I had to get people’s attention at the top, too, because I just felt like if I was talking about inclusion and you keep coming back with compliance you are either you don’t get the message or you don’t care, ”he said. “How often do I say there is a difference between compliance and actually serving people with dignity? “
CBS did not return a request for comment.
The question of what fully fair treatment looks like doesn’t end with reviews of microphones and backstage ramps. For LeBrecht, this also concerns the use of elevators, which TV Academy President McIntyre confirmed to Variety were available at the Creative Arts Emmys last week. Elevators take a long time, says the manager, before noting that they can also be “insulting” to the independence of people with disabilities.
“You can’t do it on your own, and it makes you look helpless,” he says.
While LeBrecht praised the Oscars – one of his first big industry awards events – this show also came under pressure and was aware that at least some of its nominees would have need housing for equal access to the stage. This is something LeBrecht also learned that the TV Academy attempted to confirm by speaking to all of this year’s attendees – limited due to the show’s COVID protocols and precautions. But he was told that no disabled person had been nominated.
According to the CDC, approximately 26% of Americans live with a disability, and millions of people are estimated to have an invisible disability – in other words, a disability, whether cognitive, mobility-related or otherwise, that is not immediately visible. This can include joint or bone problems that people might otherwise treat as simple pain, but which would be managed, like wheelchair users, by a ramp. But LeBrecht also tells THR only after successfully pushing for “a ramp on the stage” while promoting Crip Camp at Sundance, it became clear that not only participants with disabilities benefited.
“The point is that this ramp was a real asset because this scene had this little dance number with a group of men doing a routine and they were using the ramp in their choreography. They were delighted to see the ramp because there would only be stairs, ”he recalls.
Yet for LeBrecht, this kind of effort poses an even bigger problem. “Do we have to reveal our disabilities? he asks. “I mean, why force someone to do this?” Especially, he says, when there is already a law that requires equal access, whether or not a disability is disclosed.
“That’s why the ADA was passed. The intention of the ADA, among many other things, was to make our participation in society as equal as possible for people without disabilities.
The director says it’s important for industry events and the companies that build these scenes to understand that “the ADA is a foundation for the rights of people with disabilities. Not the ceiling. And that is ultimately the object of the rejection of other housing and its continued push for a ramp to the fore. “In our society, do we accept that people with disabilities take a different path, especially when it is entirely possible to be inclusive when you are building a scene from scratch?
While LeBrecht shares that the experience has been laborious and frustrating at times, especially the lack of communication about ongoing efforts, he lobbied and was made aware of other positive efforts that the show has put in place or at least try to set up.
“I was told that there would be [American Sign Language] interpreters available if needed. It is fabulous. I also requested that they also provide live audio descriptions for the show, ”he said. “I know they are trying to make this happen. It takes a while to coordinate, let alone find a sponsor to pay. (Google sponsored audio description for the April Oscars.)
The Oscar-nominated director knows the industry – and much of society – is still catching up on equal access, but LeBrecht also says it’s about time.
“We’re asking people to do things they’ve never done before,” admits LeBrecht. “But the ADA was passed 31 years ago. Why do we still have to ask for these things? Live audio description may or may not be a law, but why does it take a law for people to say we have a responsibility to everyone in society and not just those in quotes who are not disabled? “