Switched At Birth

Our agency is often recruited to participate in entertainment venues, including Television, Movies, Stage Performances, Award Shows………………etc.  Recently, we’ve been assisting on the set of “Switched At Birth”…..a new series focused on communication between those in the hearing and deaf worlds.  Many common issues are brought to the surface, enlightening those who have never considered the impact of culture and communication gaps.

Deaf teens are finally seeing characters and situations they can relate to.  One teen in Fremont California describes it this way to Chuck Carney in the Contra Costa Times.

Olivia Stein, a 17-year-old student at California School for the Deaf in Fremont, can probably count on one hand how many times she has seen someone like herself beaming from a television screen.

It’s no wonder, then, that she has become hooked on “Switched at Birth,” a feel-good family drama pegged, in part, to multiple deaf characters who have brought some prime-time exposure to an underrepresented segment of society.

“It allows us to be more involved. We can relate. We’re finally seeing people like us,” she said through a sign-language interpreter. “And it’s showing the world that deaf people are cool. We rock.”

“Switched at Birth” debuted on ABC Family last summer with a sensationalistic premise: A couple of teen girls — one of whom is deaf — discover that, due to a hospital error, they wound up with the wrong parents. Now their families, from two different worlds, are struggling to get to know each other.

The show became an instant ratings hit for ABC Family. Moreover, it sparked wide interest among the deaf community for its frank and respectful depiction of people with hearing loss.

The teen girl who is deaf, Daphne Vasquez, is played by Katie Leclerc, who in real life has Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance. Also among the cast are deaf actors Sean Berdy and Marlee Matlin. The series was created by Lizzy Weiss, who learned how to sign ASL while attending Duke University.

“Switched at Birth” doesn’t focus solely on deafness — the soapy twists and turns cover a wide terrain. But it does explore several pertinent deaf issues, including communication and societal barriers, speech therapy and the debate over cochlear implants. It also makes extensive use of sign language, subtitles and something very rare in this era of pop-cultural clatter: Moments of utter silence.

Anna Schumacher, a Berkeley native who served as an on-set interpreter for “Switched at Birth,” calls the show an important step forward because it doesn’t isolate its deaf characters “into a novelty category” or portray them as disabled.

“While Daphne’s life is by no means easy, because of many variables, she is seen as just as bright, capable, insightful and full as any teenager,” she said. “Yet she experiences the world in a different way and has a wonderful language at her fingertips.”

Several students applaud the show’s casting of Berdy, a charismatic 18-year-old actor who attended CSD’s sister school in Riverside. To them, he’s a “cool role model.” They even like the way he signs.

“We can pick up on his irony — something hearing people can’t,” said Conrad Baer, 17.

But Berdy’s casting also represents a sign of hope, according to Brinkley-Green.

“Some deaf people want to be actors, too,” she says. “Maybe this will open a few doors to new possibilities.”

Click on the link to view the ever-growing list of shows where The Sign Language Company has provided interpreting services, see our IMDB page.

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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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8 Responses to “Switched At Birth”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Wow, great post. Very informative.


  2. Nikhil Says:

    I would like to ask which signing system is used in this show? I think it is not ASL, because as far as I know, simultaneous signing and speaking is not possible in two different languages (ASL + English, in this case), as both languages have independent grammars. Therefore, the signing system must be one of the numerous forms of signed English, like SEE.


    • Danni Says:

      Nikhil – I just started learning ASL, and from what I can tell the main Deaf characters, Emmett and Melody, use ASL. Daphne/Katie I’m not sure about, because sometimes she speaks. Maybe SEE when she speaks, and ASL when she isn’t? I believe Bay uses Signed English because she only signs for some words. For example, I’ve noticed the Deaf characters use the signs for “where” and “what” at the END of sentences like proper ASL grammar, but not the hearing characters.

      One character that speaks and signs the whole time (as opposed to only signing random words while talking like Bay does) is Daphne’s mother. I dont know if she is using signed English, or ASL. I’m going to pay closer attention next time. Its possible she uses SEE when she is speaking, and ASL when she isn’t like Daphne.

      Then again, I’ve only been studying ASL for about a week, so I might just be talking out of my ass right now.


    • Aneesa Says:

      Nikhil – The people in Switched At Birth who sign and speak simultaneously are using ASL grammar and English grammar – the words in ASL aren’t signed with the exact word the person says in English. That’s why many of the actors who sign and speak, speak English pretty slowly so they can sign in proper ASL grammar. As you learn more ASL, you’d be able to see the English and ASL aren’t the same word-for-word.


  3. Nikhil Says:

    Danni! Hi! Thank you very much for your reply! I think you do agree with me that ASL + English is not possible at the same time. I know a fair bit about languages, but very little about sign languages.
    I realise the use of signing is quite complex, with people switching between true ASL, fingerspelling, SEE, and the like! It’s weird that even on a show like this, with so much signing, the various signing systems are just referred to as “sign language”!


    • Danni Says:

      If someone talked like they signed, they’d be saying things like “City you work?” instead of “What city do you work in?” I have thought about it, and obviously actors memorize lines, so there is a good chance they ARE signing correctly. It’s much easier to sign and talk when you have a speech planned out.

      Once again, I’ve been learning ASL for a couple of weeks, so I might be totally wrong. If there is an ASL expert reading this I am sorry if I spouting BS right now.


      • Evelyn Says:

        Hi Danni and Nikhil,

        I am sorry…I thought I had replied to your question earlier Nikhil, but I’m unable to find the comments that I wrote to you. There are various forms of sign language used on the show. When two deaf people are talking to each other. ASL is typically used. When a hearing person is speaking while signing to a deaf character, you’ll see a mix following more closely with the words that are being spoken. When I find my original reply – – containing more detail – – I will post it here (again?).


      • Nikhil Says:

        Danni – Hi! Thanks again for your reply! I would agree with you on that.

        Evelyn – Hi! That’s alright! I hope you can find your original post. Thank you very much for your reply!


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