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"Switched At Birth"


Laurie Boggs
 

Switched at Birth
 

“I have GOT to learn sign language!” were the enthusiastic words I heard my daughter tell her friends when I walked into the house. After several years of “dabbling” in ASL, a beautiful language I wish I had more time to devote to learning, I was so proud to hear that I must have finally influenced one of my children with a desire to learn more.  Alas, a practice partner! I should have stayed upstairs and basked in the glow of super-parent, all inspiring role model for my daughter, but instead ran right down to the den where I was instantly hushed by three girls with their eyes glued to the TV.  It turns out “he’s so cute” Sean Berdy, not I, was the source of my daughters newly peaked interest.  A 20 year old young man is hard to compete with! 

 

When Children of a Lesser God, starring Marlee Matlin, a Deaf American actress, was released in 1986 it appeared film had finally depicted a realistic relationship between the Hearing and Deaf worlds. However, for the next 30 years, television continued to use Deaf characters as merely props as part of a Hearing person’s story. The one-hour teen and family drama series, Switched at Birth, which premiered on ABC Family on June 6, 2011 finally reversed that course (Lacob, 2011).

 

Switched at Birth is the first mainstream television series to have multiple Deaf and hard-of-hearing series regulars and scenes shot entirely in ASL (American Sign Language) as reported by ABC Family (Wikipedia, n.d.). The synopsis of the show involves a young teenager (Bay Kennish), played by Vanessa Marano, who lives with her father, mother, and older brother in a wealthy suburb in Kansas. After studying blood types in school, Bay discovers her parents are not her biological parents. The family learns that the hospital mistakenly switched Bay and another baby girl (Daphen Vasquez), played by Katie Leclerc. Daphen is a Deaf teen who lives with her struggling mother and grandmother in a low-income neighborhood in Missouri. When the two families meet, the wealthy Kennish family invites the struggling Vasquez family to live in their guest home. The new living situation forces the two girls, as well as their families, to understand and embrace their similarities and differences (Wikipedia, n.d.).

 

Switched at Birth stars two Deaf or hard-of-hearing actors as main characters, as well as several Deaf actors who star in recurring roles:

 

Katie Leclerc was born November 6, 1986. Katie has Meniere’s disease which is a disorder of the inner ear which can affect hearing and balance to varying degrees. Her hearing loss is fluctuating. She started to take sign language classes in high school because she fell in love with the language and surrounding culture (MacKenzie, 2011).  Leclerc remarked that her favorite thing about her character is that she is a normal teenager struggling with boys, teachers, and parents. She said “no Deaf person sits there and says, ‘I am only Deaf’.” One of the things that I’m very proud of is that we can come into a hearing audience members’ home on a weekly basis” (Lacob, 2012).

 

Sean Berdy was born June 3, 1993. He was born Deaf. He is proud to star on a show that depicts a Deaf person as part of a community. “I have Deaf friends and family and they love the show, they worship the show, and say, ‘It’s about time. Finally a show about us, for us’.” He goes on to say that “There are two worlds, the Deaf world and the hearing world. I hope this show builds a bridge between the two communities” (Lacob, 2012).

 

Marlee Matlin was born August 24, 1965. She won an Oscar for Children of a Lesser God and has starred in several TV series and films. Regarding Switched at Birth she said she has not seen such a phenomenal reception to Deaf people on a show before this one.  “You get to see culture, the language and I’m very proud of it” (Miller, 2013).   Matlin reported that “It’s so comforting to use my language without thinking who is interpreting for me, and it’s so natural as an actor for me now” (Lacob, 2012).

 

Anthony Natale was born January 31, 1959. He was born Deaf. He has appeared in several major motion pictures as well as television series.  He is the star of “How to talk to a person who can’t hear” which was the first video made to teach sign language to the general public. His mission statement reads as follows: “In everything I do, I shall give my interest, my enthusiasm, my devotion, my love, and most of all, myself. Provide Deaf Awareness, Bridge the gap between Deaf and hearing, Teach sign Language and Drama workshops to schools, universities and communities” (Anthony Natale homepage, n.d.).

 

Ryan Lane was born November 23, 1987.  He was diagnosed at two weeks of age with congenital nerve deafness. He has starred in a few television series, short films, and theatre. He is proud to report that “each set he has been on is now more informed about the Deaf community and have even learned a little sign language!” (Ryan Lane online, n.d.).

 

Stephanie Nogueras was born November 18, 1989. She is profoundly Deaf. She pursued a modeling career because of her confidence and beauty. Despite rejections and obstacles, she was successful and raised Deaf awareness and respect in both Deaf and hearing communities. Stephanie said “I feel the success of Switched at Birth has helped to dispel misconceptions about Deaf actors and our capabilities. The Deaf community is rich and culture and talent” (Gomez, 2013).

 

So my daughter’s newfound interest in ASL was not quite the result of my persuasion. My ego might be bruised, but I am thrilled her and her friends, as well as thousands of American’s, have the opportunity to be exposed to this language and culture I have admired for so many years.

 

 

References:
 

Buchwald, Linda. (February 26, 2013). ‘Switched At Birth’ Actors Talk TV’s First All-Sign Language Episode and Roles for Deaf Actors. Retrieved December 23, 2013: http://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/backstage-experts/switched-birth-actors-talk-tvs-first-all-sign-language-episode-and-roles-deaf-actors/.

Gomez, Patrick. (11/15/13). Stephanie Nogueras: ‘There’s Nothing In My Life That Would Limit My Ability to Succeed.’ Retrieved January 3, 2014. http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20756442,00.html.

http://abcfamily.go.com/shows/switched-at-birth/cast/daphne-vasquez. Retrieved December 23, 2013.

http://abcfamily.go.com/shows/switched-at-birth/cast/emmett-bledsoe. Retrieved December 23,2013.

http://homepage.smc.edu/natale_anthony/. Retrieved January 3, 2014.

http://ryanlaneonline.com/wp/. Retrieved December 23, 2013.

Lacob, Jace.  (February 14, 2012).  ‘Switched at Birth’; ABC Family’s Groundbreaking Deaf/Hearing Drama.  The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 23, 2013: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/14switched-at-birth-abc-family-s-groundbreaking-deaf-hearing-drama.html

MacKenzie, Carina. (June, 2011). ‘Switched at Birth’: Meet Katie LeClerc and Sean Berdy, Hard-of-Hearing Stars. Retrieved December 20, 2013: http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2011/06/switched-at-birth-meet-katie-leclerc-and-sean-berdy-hearing-impaired-stars.html.

Miller, Bruce.  (March 10, 2013), ‘Switched at Birth’ Gives Marlee Matlin Hope for Deaf Actors. Sioux City Journal. Retrieved December 30, 2014:  http://siouxcityjournal.com/entertainment/television/switched-at-birth-gives-marlee-matlin-hope-for-deaf-actors/article_d7945a0d-4b7c-5b89-842b-00f0bcdedd48.html.

Switched at Birth (TV Series). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 20, 2013: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switched_at_Birth_(TV_series).

 

[Article submitted: January 9, 2014]


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