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Academy Sets New Accessibility
Record -- Troy Kotsur Declares ‘This Is Our Moment!’-‘CODA’ Makes History

Keely Cat-Wells, Forbes Magazine

March 29, 2022

Editor’s Note: Even though no one could have predicted that “CODA” would go on to win 3 Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences went to great lengths to construct a more inclusive environment for the actors, the audience, its viewers at home and even the stage production itself — of the 94th Academy Awards.

Three historic Academy Awards for “CODA” becoming the first film with a predominantly Deaf cast to win Best Picture. Troy Kotsur is the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar and only the second Deaf actor to ever receive an Oscar, following Marlee Matlin, who won Best Actress for “Child of a Lesser God” in 1987. Siân Heder won Best Adapted Screenplay, this was Heder and Kotsur’s first nomination and win. Finally, Apple became the first streaming service honoured with Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

When Kotsur collected his award he paid tribute to the “Deaf theatre stages” where he had honed his craft. Kotsur finished his emotional speech dedicating his win to the Deaf, CODA and disabled community, declaring, “This is our moment!”

The Oscars themselves also made the history books, by being the most accessible Academy Awards yet. Jeanell English, VP of Impact and Operations for The Academy mentioned in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that, “we’re not going to get everything right. We know that, but we ask, how can we continue to improve? Let’s keep pushing the boundaries and challenging and trying to create more access where we can. we’re proud of what we’ve done, but it’s not nearly enough and we are committed to continuing to do as much as we can in this journey.”

The event had a front stage ramp integrated into the design of the ceremony’s custom-made stage. Additionally, the ceremony continued the use of live captioning and, following last year’s history-making effort, the use of audio description, courtesy of captioning provider <VITAC.

English also told THR, “I am so proud because we are working with an incredible organization, LaVant Consulting, led by Andraéa LaVant. Her team, with Rosemary McDonnell-Horita who is a key consultant working with us, has been a partner to me and to my team in thinking through and questioning everything we’re doing. So much so that we even facilitated a training with the Dolby staff who are going to be working as ushers on all things accessibility, all things disability — what language we should be using, how we start to normalize different questions, how we engage with service animals, how do you ask someone if they need support and help. We’ve been working really closely with that team in identifying a number of deaf and hearing interpreters to support the show, but also walking through and working with us on the design of the stage and thinking through everything from the communications and how we’re promoting certain services. I’m so proud to have worked with them this season and so excited with what they’ve contributed.”

English said, “the new [accessibility] piece that we really added for this year that was from direct feedback and conversation we had from the Deaf community — was how can we start to embed ASL interpretation into the broadcast in some capacity. So we are providing a YouTube feed in front of the paywall to support anyone who wants to watch and experience the show with an ASL interpreter. We’re really proud of what we’re doing here. The ASL interpreters are incredible. We’re working with certified deaf interpreters this year who will be delivering that service on YouTube Live with the broadcast. It will be an incredible feature for anyone who wants to tune in and pull up that feed and watch the show with our interpreters.”

In Apples press release Zack Van Amburg, Apple’s head of Worldwide Video said, “On behalf of everyone at Apple, we are so grateful to the Academy for the honors bestowed on ‘CODA’ this evening. We join our teams all over the world in celebrating Siân, Troy, the producers, and the entire cast and crew for bringing such a powerful representation of the Deaf community to audiences, and breaking so many barriers in the process. It has been so rewarding to share this life-affirming, vibrant story, which reminds us of the power of film to bring the world together.”

Jamie Erlicht, Apple’s head of Worldwide Video mentioned, “What an incredible journey it has been since the moment we first saw ‘CODA’ to today’s historic recognition from the Academy. It has been a true joy to witness the positive impact on humanity that this story and its performances have had worldwide. We send our warmest congratulations to Siân; Troy; the cast; the creative team; producers Patrick, Philippe, and Fabrice; and everyone who helped bring inclusion and accessibility to the forefront through this remarkable film.”

Kotsur paid tribute to the “Deaf theatre stages” where he had honed his craft. Kotsur finished his emotional speech dedicating his win to the Deaf, CODA and disabled community, declaring, “This is our moment!”

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