First NAD Breakthrough Awards Gala

On March 13, 2014, more than 200 people gathered at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California to celebrate breakthroughs in the media on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing actors and artists and to recognize those who have paved the way for these actors and artists in Hollywood and the media. The NAD convened this unprecedented Breakthrough Awards Gala to showcase the importance of these breakthroughs which help increase awareness of the importance of authentic inclusion of the deaf and hard of hearing community. With this eye-opening event, the NAD seeks to translate the heightened awareness into increased opportunities for our community to gain prominent roles both in front of and behind the camera.

Attendees included major media companies, deaf and hard of hearing actors and artists, television and movie executives, directors, producers, writers, agents, and casting professionals.  The NAD thanks all who attended and is especially grateful to our sponsors including many from the industry: , Comcast/NBCUniversal, CBS, Eisenberg & Baum LLP, ABC Family, Margie Somers of Allred Maroko & Goldberg, NFL Foundation, Disney Parks & Resorts, Showtime, Media Four Management, and David Walsh of Morrison & Foerster LLP.

Six recipients of the first Breakthrough Award were recognized for their trailblazing work in the entertainment industry that made it possible for deaf and hard of hearing artists and supporting cast to have a meaningful presence in Hollywood:


  •   Marlee Matlin, youngest person to win an Oscar for Best Actress and a star who has shown the world that deaf people can be cast in many different roles in movies and television.  Howard Rosenblum, NAD CEO presented her with the Matlin Impact Award to recognize her exemplary work in Hollywood and beyond;
  •  Aaron Sorkin, Oscar winning screenwriter and playwright whose credits include: The Social NetworkThe Newsroom and West Wing, for his innovative idea of showing a deaf person as a political pollster advising the White House which is something that was never done before. Bradley Whitford, who starred on West Wing, presented him with the Character Breakthrough Award;
  •  Lizzy Weiss, producer and writer of the first-ever television show with a predominantly deaf or hard of hearing cast, Switched at Birth, for bringing about a greater awareness of Deaf culture and ASL to the world. Vanessa Marano, who stars on Switched at Birth, presented her with the Series Breakthrough Award;
  •  Bernard Bragg, world renowned deaf theater artist and co-founder of the National Theater of the Deaf, for all that he has done in his own performances and also to develop and bring to the world highly trained deaf actors. David Kurs, director of the Deaf West Theater, presented him with the Legacy Breakthrough Award;
  •  PepsiCo, which created the first ASL-based Super Bowl commercial and was NAD’s partner in bringing the beauty of American Sign Language to the Super Bowl, was represented by Clay Broussard who helped create Bob’s House, a commerical performed completely in ASL. Amber Zion, who was the PepsiCo-sponsored ASL artist to perform the National Anthem this year, presented PepsiCo with theAwareness Breakthrough Award;
  •   The Walt Disney Company, which has actively promoted ASL as well as deaf and hard of hearing artists throughout its industry, resorts, and media, including the 2012Signin’ in the Street event, was represented by Marilyn Magness, its Director of Creative Entertainment. Claudia Gordon, from the Office of Public Engagement for the White House, presented Disney with the Awareness Breakthrough Award.

In addition to the presentation of these awards, attendees were entertained by Masters of Ceremonies Constance Marie, fromSwitched at Birth, and John Maucere, renowned deaf actor and producer. The program included Alexis Kashar, Gala Committee Chair; Howard Rosenblum, NAD CEO; and Christopher Wagner, NAD President. The exciting evening ended with a rousing performance by Sean Forbes, deaf rapper extraordinaire!

The phenomenal success of the NAD Breakthrough Awards Gala was only possible with the assistance of our sponsors and the excellent benefit planning committee which included: Alexis Kashar, Gala Benefit Committee Chair; Marlee Matlin, Honorary Chair; Amy Michner, Auction Committee Chair; and Wendy Adams, Auction committee Co-Chair; and all members of the benefit planning committee.

Pictures of this gala and its attendees, and write ups can be found at: