For the first time in its 94-year history, the Academy Awards show is expanding its accessibility, both on and off screen, to the Oscars’ red carpet on Sunday.
The Oscars’ red carpet will include audio transcriptions — provided by a team that includes a blind audio describer — and live captions to ensure access for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. Additionally, American Sign Language interpreters will be brought to the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood this year, with an ASL livestream available for those watching at home.
Andraéa LaVant, president of the disability consulting firm LaVant Consulting Inc., said that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been a leader in pushing for accessibility in award shows. Her firm began collaborating with Jeanell English, executive vice president of impact and inclusion at the academy, for the 2022 award show and have made continuous improvements to the show’s inclusion, equity and accessibility.
In an interview with HuffPost, English said that this collaboration was the academy’s opportunity to “listen, to learn and to create space for those within the disability community to inform us of how we can be more accessible.” English added that the academy learned “how we can center our programming… in a way that elevates accessibility [and] that supports and celebrates disability as a part of the collective humanity and, honestly, the artistry of filmmaking.”
The academy has made significant strides in the past few years to increase the accessibility of the Oscars, both externally and internally, through disability etiquette training for on-site staff, assistive technology devices for guests at the show, a ramp to the stage and ASL interpretation in the theater that viewers can livestream at home on YouTube.
LaVant said that the stage design and other aspects of the show also reflect “universal design,” a concept that is now being brought to the red carpet. Architect Ronald Mace coined the term universal design to describe an all-inclusive philosophy of barrier-free design.
“We had the ASL livestream last year, and we had interpreters on site [and] in person for the theater, but we’ve not brought access in this manner to the red carpet before,” LaVant told HuffPost. “From the fashion [on] the red carpet, all the way to the stage, we deserve to be able to experience in the fullest way what’s happening.”
This is also the first year that the Oscars has issued a Red Carpet Accessibility Guide, which was provided to press members and reporters covering the red carpet. The guide includes tips on disability etiquette and what language to use when engaging with disabled people on the red carpet.
“For reporters that are describing clothing… the blind and low vision audiences desire to know just as much and experience just as much the fashion that is on the red carpet, so we have a team member really dedicated to that,” LaVant said, and offering guidance on how to describe the red carpet looks.
Award shows have made significant efforts toward disability inclusion and accessibility over the years, LaVant said, especially because of internal staff and various disability-focused affinity groups who call on academies and organizations to push for access and accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
English said that bringing members of the disability community into these event-planning conversations is key in ensuring that access is being delivered the right way. The Oscars’ audio description team expanded this year to include a blind audio descriptor, and a member of the quality control team is also blind. The ASL team for the Oscars also primarily consists of Black and Indigenous people of color, which LaVant said is important in achieving intersectional inclusion, access and representation from every perspective.
“The goal is to be able to bring our entire selves to a space and know that we can experience it and that we feel like we belong. It’s really about creating a sense of belonging [where] everyone is welcome, both in the space, physically, as well as the viewer’s experience,” LaVant said.
She added: “And then, hopefully, that continues to push on the other side, the representation perspective, what we are continuing to see on film and television.”
English said that accessibility and inclusion are priorities for the academy, adding that it will continue to listen to disabled viewers and attendees to learn what more needs to be done to make the show more accessible.
“It’s continuous progress, and we’re not going to get everything right. But we’re committed to the journey. And that I think it is [a] really powerful position to be in when it comes to inclusion and access and the future of this industry,” English said.