Actress Marlee Matlin calls President Trump a ‘barrier’ for the disabled

Lisa Cohen
Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, director of the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda, with actress Marlee Matlin at the Simmons Leadership Conference.

Simmons College held its annual Leadership Conference at the Seaport World Trade Center Thursday, and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin was the featured speaker. (Previous keynoters at the daylong women’s conference have included Hillary Clinton, Maya Angelou, and Madeleine Albright.) After her talk, Matlin, who’s deaf, answered a few of our questions with the aid of longtime interpreter Jack Jason.

Q. What was the main message you wanted to relay to women in the audience today?

A. I’m out there talking about breaking down barriers, whether or not people have physical challenges or, as they’re called, disabilities. There should be no limits on anyone. We don’t have barriers. It’s other people who put the barriers there. I hope that I can inspire people to understand that I’m living proof of what can happen when you push aside the attitudes that people have.


Q. During the presidential campaign you spoke out against Donald Trump’s comments about disabled people. Now that he’s president, do you feel a responsibility to be an advocate?

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A. I want to speak for people who apparently don’t have a voice within this current administration. I want to speak on behalf of the arts, on behalf of the disabled, on behalf of the disenfranchised. I think Donald Trump is a barrier to people like myself. I don’t want to lose sleep over him, but when he says things that are offensive, I will speak out. I try to focus on the positive rather than the negative, but if I need to raise my voice, I’m there on behalf of everyone who can’t.

Q. If you could sit down with the president, what would you want to say to him?

A. Please get rid of (White House press secretary) Sean Spicer. Pronto.

Q. You were the first actress with a disability in decades to win an Oscar when you won for “Children of a Lesser God.” Thirty years later, it hasn’t happened again. Are you hopeful that more actors and actresses will join your ranks soon?


A. I would hope that not only is it an Oscar, but that it’s an Emmy, a Golden Globe, any major award. We don’t have to dwell on stories about disability to give them an award. Just give an actor with a disability a role. It doesn’t have to be about a disabled person.

Q. Are there any upcoming projects for you that you’re excited about?

A. I just did a pilot, it doesn’t have a name and I can’t speak about it yet. Being a mom of four is a pretty big project by itself.

Alex Frandsen can be reached at