- I’m a reporter and wheelchair user who worked on the red carpet for the first time at the 2022 Tony Awards.
- I felt invisible, intrusive, afraid, useless and inhuman.
- Not sure how accessible the red carpets are. It’s not anyone’s fault.
I can always remember that I dreamed of working in the entertainment media industry. At first I wanted to work as a reporter, but later I realized I wanted to be an entertainment reporter. I am fortunate that my dream came true because as a wheelchair user I have always been afraid to work on the red carpet – and advertising workers often have no other choice when it comes to this.
Tight spaces are not fun for anyone, but when you sit in a confined space and others stand, you become invisible and an obstacle to others. Journalists often have to shout to get people’s attention to the red carpets – a skill I possess in the right circumstances – but when everyone else is screaming, staying seated is a disadvantage.
I also realize that in my experience PWD are not welcome in most places only when looking at architectural design. I knew I wouldn’t be the first person with a disability to run on the red carpet, but I’d never seen anyone do that before. I expected to be out of place on the carpet and feared being fed or disrespectful. And while I was used to being treated with a great deal of disrespect, I was worried that I would question my purpose in being there.
When I got the chance to cover the carpet at the 2022 Tony Awards, held at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Sunday, I couldn’t say no. My fear was real, but so was my excitement at the idea of being just a small part of the big award ceremony.
On Thursday, I got word that the awards ceremonies and carpets will be open to all ADA. I stayed at a hotel the night before so as not to be late due to traffic and rain.
There were pluses: I had two colleagues with me and I was really looking forward to great interviews with the stars. I was also ready for awkward conversations as I would have to ask for better accommodations. I just hoped I’d get more good minutes out of the bad ones; I thought it was a reasonable request from the universe.
Unfortunately, my worst fears came true on the red carpet
As I made my way to the early Insiders seat on the gray carpet to wait for my colleagues to sign in, I carefully noted the space between the little squares of paper that marked the locations of reporters and photographers in each publication.
I approached the Insider seat from the front of the ropes, trying to see if I got the extra space I needed.
It didn’t look like I got an extra room, but I didn’t mind. The room was more cramped than I expected but the rug was quite large. It was tight but I could stay close to my seat. Also, event organizers came and moved the boxes, so I had a little more space (although anything they could do would make a noticeable difference).
It took me a very long time to realize that journalists and photographers should survive behind Velvet cords. This piece of space is for objects and equipment, not just cameras.
Before it dawned on me, though, a man buzzed with a question: Did you try to cross the street?
I, the woman certainly locked in the tent with him, took care of my business in the bright navy blue dress over the skirt and two different IDs around my neck. Do I need help crossing the street?
I quickly told him I was exactly where I needed to be, looked at the little piece of paper that said “inside” and wondered if I was going to fight or smile behind my mask for the next few hours of my life.
The confrontation didn’t make me particularly emotional, but it confirmed my worst fears. Someone’s instinct was that I didn’t belong here. When the guy who helped the setup thought of this idea, I wondered if the attendees would do it too.
I felt bad when the talent arrived – like an animal in a cage
When the other reporters got to work, I made my way to my rightful place behind the velvet rope. I felt like an animal in a cage, but a bit – until all the cameras were up.
Then I realized that one of my fears was real. Behind the ropes, I held back my teammates who were trying to do their best. And if I retire on the curb and wait until we have someone in our seat for an interview, I won’t do my best either. I also felt very intimidated by being surrounded by tall people and big cameras.
If I stay behind the ropes, I may not be there. I stopped a woman who was working at the event—she was dressed in black as they all are—and asked if I could be on the talent side of the rug to give me more space. After getting permission from her boss, I was allowed out of the cage to the elite side of the event. Success. I can stay close to my co-workers but stay out of their way, and talent will easily see me, right?
Error. Actors who want to stop to talk to reporters look up to their eyes. So when they stopped for us, most of the time they were talking to my colleagues. This was still a win for me as part of the team. But I once again felt useless. Both are invisible and on the way.
Off the ropes, I could see, breathe, and move a little, but occasionally the actor’s couture dress would get stuck in a wheelchair.
Here’s the terrible thing: no one was rude, everyone meant well and did their best to accommodate me. Still, it was awful.
As a wheelchair user, I was really afraid of red carpets. Feeling all these feelings at once—fear, useless, invisible, highly visible, ignored—creates an overwhelming sensation that very few people experience in life. I’m starting to feel inhuman.
The red carpet won’t truly be accessible until people with disabilities are seated at the table
I did my job to the best of my knowledge and faith. It’s something I’m usually good at and like very much.
Sure, some days are harder than others, and sometimes writing is easier than other times, but I never felt like I failed when I did my best.
That, it never happens until you’ve rolled on the red carpet where people are supposed to feel like the best version of themselves, even behind the ropes.
My feelings are not anyone’s fault. They point to the failure of entertainment to include physically disabled people in a transformed, fit-for-all system, rather than dumping the few of us who have managed to make it here in a deeply disabled system.
Disabled artists are literally banned from wearing red carpets. As a wheelchair user, carpet is generally a problem because our wheels have a lot of friction on the carpet,” actor David Proud wrote for I. From the red carpet events I attended as an actor, I had to go to the red carpet rolling to get to the building…so close but so far! “
“The red carpet is a useful metaphor for the entire industry. Sometimes people with disabilities are allowed on the sidelines, but we are not really included – and worse, we are asked to be grateful.”
On a bad day, I tend to say there is no real solution to the red carpet problem. This, won’t happen until all sectors of entertainment and media consciously start hiring more people with disabilities. When that day comes, perhaps people in the disability community can design ADA-acceptable standards for recreational events.
I can’t say I will never work on a rug again. But this experience was a good reminder to trust my instincts and stay where I feel appreciated — and human.
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