“Inclusion,” “diversity” and “accessibility” are buzzwords these days, and perhaps no one better embraces and reflects their meaning and promise than Marlee Matlin.

The Academy Award-winning actress, bestselling author and activist who lost her hearing as a toddler advocates for those with disabilities, children, LGBTQ rights and people struggling with domestic abuse and addiction. She developed Marlee Signs, an app that teaches the basics of American Sign Language, and has raised awareness for better hearing health for millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in developing countries. And last month the “Children of a Lesser God” actress joined Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Norman Lear, Glenn Close and other big names in an open letter calling on Hollywood executives to cast more actors with disabilities.

Matlin, 54, comes to Houston’s Congregation Emanu El on Jan. 30 to present “Nobody’s Perfect: Achieving Inclusion, Diversity and Access.” The event launches the eighth annual, 10-plus-day ReelAbilities Houston Film & Arts Festival, which uses the arts to educate, celebrate and change perceptions about those with disabilities. She told the Houston Chronicle about employing her platform for advocacy, her wide-ranging projects and what inclusion means to her.

Q: Can you give us a taste of what your ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ remarks will include?

A: My talk will take the audience through my journey from growing up in Chicago as a young girl to winning an Academy Award at 21 years old when no one expected that I could achieve such a high honor simply because I was deaf. The title refers to the fact that I believe all of us have some barrier of one kind or another and that rather than dwell on disabilities, we should focus on our abilities and encourage equality and love, no matter what challenges we face.

Q: This speaking engagement kicks off ReelAbilities, sponsored by Jewish Family Services’ Alexander Institute for Inclusion, and is part of Congregation Emanu El’s Endowment Series. How has your Jewish faith influenced your advocacy for inclusion?

A: My parents followed their own path, despite what doctors and experts felt should be for a deaf person, which closely mirrored the Jewish philosophy of Tikun Olam, of healing the world. Rather than shut me out, my parents included me and treated me just as any child should be treated — with love and respect. This is one of the basic tenets of Judaism and one … our local temple also followed by including members of the hearing and deaf Jewish communities of Skokie (Ill.). Even better, our rabbi could sign!

Q: You and many other notable celebrities recently signed an open letter urging Hollywood to create more opportunities for actors with disabilities. How much progress has been made in this area since you got your start? Does your own ability to perform well for directors and producers influence them?

A: When parts that feature a disabled or deaf character are played by non-deaf or nondisabled (actors), access and equal opportunity are virtually denied. My example of working successfully in Hollywood for over 30 years has shown directors and producers that parts can be played authentically and successfully. But for every triumph, there are still instances where deaf and disabled actors are shut out. Here’s a sobering statistic: Though deaf and disabled people make up 20 percent of the population, roles featuring deaf and disabled (actors) make up only 5 percent of roles in film and TV. And of this 5 percent, only 5 percent are actually played by actors who are deaf or disabled. This is why we signed the open letter to Hollywood to clue them in that when they talk about diversity and inclusion, they need to also consider the largest minority in the United States, deaf and disabled individuals.

Q: Your roles have certainly been varied, from the dramatic “Children of a Lesser God” to “The West Wing,” even to the black comedy of “Family Guy.” Is life better for working on such wide-ranging projects?

A: Life is better when I’m given the opportunity to experience it all, just as any actor who is not deaf to explore. … I’d rather accept the challenge of any role as long as it’s written well.

Q: Some in the deaf community vehemently oppose lip reading and speaking orally, which seems to fly in the face of inclusion for people such as yourself, who operate in both worlds. What do you say to them?

A: Follow your own path and respect those who do the same. We should not try to define others who express their passion with life and work.

Q: You’ve achieved success as a stage and screen actor, author and advocate for many groups. You’re also a wife and mother. What are you most proud of?

A: I’m proud of it all. Wife, mother, actor, producer, writer. I’m also proud as someone who is Jewish, who has been sober for 33 years, who is a survivor of sexual molestation and abuse. All of these make up who I am, and no one part is better than the other.

Q: 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many people still see it narrowly as the law that made wheelchair ramps mandatory. In 2020, what does inclusion mean to you, and what’s in store for you in the new year?

A: I will continue to speak up on the inequalities that I see and read about every day. … Inclusion has not been automatically guaranteed under the ADA; every day I still hear (about) those who face barriers, discrimination and prejudice. We … need to not only enforce laws, we also need to change minds, create new conversations and bring down attitudinal barriers.

Q: Are you familiar with Houston? Are you looking forward to trying the great Tex-Mex or other restaurants in this foodie town or any of Houston’s other offerings?

A: Texas seems to be the place I go to most often for speaking engagements and motivational appearances. I’ve become very accustomed to your wonderful restaurants and food fare there, particularly in Houston. … I’ve found everyone to be as friendly as the city and state are big. Plus, I love reading the lips of people with Texas accents!