Switched at Birth first premiered on June 6, 2011, starring Katie Leclerc, Vanessa Marano, Constance Marie, D.W. Moffett, Lea Thompson (known from “Back to the Future”), Lucas Grabeel (“High School Musical”), Sean Berdy, Gilles Marini as well as Oscar-winning actress and Deaf advocate Marlee Matlin. The drama series airs on ABC Family every Monday night at 8/7c and has influenced many, American Sign Language being the highlight of the spectacle. The series’ debut has been announced as the highest-rated show debut for ABC Family to date.
Taking place in Kansas City, Bay Kennish (played by Vanessa Marano) grows up in a wealthy neighborhood. After studying blood types in school, she finds out her blood type doesn’t match her parents. Her anticipation gets the best of her and further studies this impractical correlation. When her family is genetically tested, it is confirmed that Bay is not related to their family. They discover the hospital’s mistake of switching their child with Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc) a deaf teen living with the struggle of her single mother and Puerto Rican grandmother. Diagnosed with meningitis as a kid, Daphne lost her hearing and has been attending Carlton School for the Deaf.
When the two families met, tensions grow between differences in culture, money situations and Daphne’s deafness. The hearing world and the deaf world clash, and so the fight begins as the characters struggle to understand both worlds in order to become a family. In order for both moms to get to know their daughters, the Vasquez family moves into the Kennish’s guest house. Not wanting to separate, the family tries to embrace to the adjustment of daughters switched at birth.
On Saturday, March 17, 2012, Disneyland held an event called “Signin’ in the Street” which celebrated the creativity of the deaf community. Including performances and activities provided by the Switched at Birth cast and crew, it attracted the fans and the deaf community to come and enjoy the festivities. Sean Berdy (who plays Emmett) performed the song “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias in ASL which is available on You Tube as a music video. Sean Berdy has toured and performed at many venues, signing songs for audiences, and has personally made me consider him one of my favorite actors, with his animated spirit.
Switched at birth no longer made the deaf world invisible. It sprouted interest in the deaf world, influencing many to learn American Sign Language. Most people don’t know anything about the deaf world and the culture they’ve created within. Just like any other culture, it is important as Americans to become accustomed and awareness to the various cultures we can attribute to. Beginning in 1817, American Sign Language was created for the deaf, a way of communicating by hand signs. Since communication is strictly based on facial expression and hand gestures, they heavily rely on TTYs (electronic device used for communication over telephone lines) and video devices. Studies show that one in 20 Americans are either hard of hearing or deaf; and most aren’t even exposed to the deaf world. In communicating by hand, the deaf world has turned into a culture itself, by shared traditions, values and social beliefs. Member of the deaf community have expressed that deafness is a difference in human experience, not a disability.
Whether we categorize a deaf person by having a disability or not, has raised debate between the deaf community and the hearing world. While some deaf citizens have the option of a cochlear implant (which is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound), some prefer to remain “Capital ‘D’ Deaf.” As most don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to be given the option to hear, it is important to understand the perspective of the deaf world. As being hard of hearing myself, I can relate to both argumentations in both sides. Some born-deaf believe the same as getting a tattoo or plastic surgery that “if God made me this way, why change who I am?” They are proud to have their language and culture. Others may believe that technology has taken an advancement and the option to hear (which is a blessing) should be taken advantage of. But really, who’s to say to make their choice?
So next time when the show’s on, ODU please watch it! It may not be your forte’ but really take it into account. Think about it, ponder it. Their culture is one of many in the world that hasn’t received the acknowledgement it should. Whether the idea transfers into a club or event, we can help contribute to awareness. All it takes is one person, and the domino effect will come.
By: Lauren Bonner