Written by S. Bowyer

 

     Imagine you are deaf, and you are arrested. How would that feel? There are lights in your face, so you cannot read their lips, your hands are cuffed behind your back, so you are unable to "speak". How would you or your mother communicate with the person who arrested you without an interpreter? Emmett found out.

 

 

     Switched at Birth is a new US series, which aims to give the "deaf perspective." We begin with Bay Kennish, an opinioned teenager, who grew up in a prominent family, her father a famous ex-baseball player. During a school assignment she learns about genetics and finds out her blood group is not possibly correct, based on her parents' blood groups. Upon further investigating, the family are told she is not related to them, and that the hospital switched babies by mistake. Introducing Daphne, the biological daughter of Bay's parents, who is blonde, confident, and deaf, and Regina Vasquez, the biological mother of Bay.

      From first meeting, there is an "us" and "them" mentality amongst the families, both mothers wanting to get to know their new daughter, but scared of losing the daughter they raised. However, while the Kennish's get to know their biological daughter Daphne, they are baffled to understand the deaf culture she is attached to. They don't understand why she wasn't given a Cochlear Implant, why she wears a hearing aid if she's deaf, or how to speak appropriately for her to lip read, nor do they consider learning sign language. It becomes Regina's greatest frustration that the new family wish to edit deaf people, not understand them. She feels because Daphne can also speak with her voice, which some deaf people can do, they are taking the easy way out of getting to know Daphne.

      As the Kennish's begin to back down, they begin to learn about deaf culture, as does the viewer, with the additional characters in Daphne's life, such as Emmett, her deaf best friend, and Melody, Emmett's mother, who is also deaf. We find out later that Emmett was the hero in Daphne's life from a young age. Emmett met Daphne when she was a little girl, crying over some girls who were bullying her while walking home from school. The only time Emmett ever spoke with his voice was to scare the girls off, before taking her home to Melody. Melody met with Regina to explain how sign language would help free her distraught little girl, along with special schools such as Carlton, the local school for deaf children. The event changed Daphne's world into an organised, workable life.

      What makes the series so authentic is a great number of people who work on the show are deaf. Some of the actors are deaf in real life, meaning they are not merely "acting", but giving realism to their roles. The actress, Daphne, grew up with Meniere's Disease, which affects the inner ear and can cause hearing loss for either ongoing, or sporadic time periods. The hearing community of the show also have to learn sign language as a lot of their scenes mean they have to speak their lines as well as sign them. It also keeps an upbeat approach and likes to bring fun into such a serious subject. An example would be when Toby, Bay's brother, first meets Emmett:

 

  (The second part of the film is the end of episode one, where Daphne starts to think about Bay as her "alternate life" that she never lived, her deafness being a childhood accident that might not have happened had she not been switched.)

 

     What I found inspiring in this series is their ability to tackle every day issues with a deaf and hearing perspective, without sensationalising. After all, under every health condition, disease, or issue, is a person wanting to be noticed. In the following scene, Daphne is harmed when her deaf friend, Travis, is distracted by another stall nearby. We don't see a biased legal situation, or any sort of over-dramatisation. It's just real human interaction, and real expression. The deaf community are capable characters, never relying on others to baby them. Most of the turmoil is simply daily issues and events that would occur when two children are mistakenly swapped, and what "typical" struggles that would happen to the authentic family members, from both a hearing and deaf perspective.

 

 

     Switched at Birth is currently in its third season, returning after mid-break. It has tackled a lot of issues, such as divorce, child custody, extortion, addictions, hearing and deaf dating, love triangles, importance of father figures and maternal instincts, interracial issues, work discrimination, sexual harrassment, religion and the list of issues it comments on is growing. The characters are varied and rich, and the storylines expressive without being depressive.

 

 Most viewers also rate the show highly. 

      "This TV series shows promise. The actors are fine and the character development and premise of the story is quite involving. If the writers consistently produce solid scripts and story arcs, this show should do well. The idea of the switched at birth formula mixed with the prince and the pauper fable (and the deaf girl embellishment) makes for a rather refreshing plot backdrop."

      "The storyline is simple, but the emotional impact that is tossed at you is what makes this drama addicting. The storyline never goes in loops or stretch for too long. You grow to care for these fictional characters that feel real. What I admire about these characters is that they make understandable/close to realistic decisions that don't make viewers mad."

      "As a Deaf woman who rarely watches any television shows, because CC (closed captioning) is not always accurate, and it gets tiring trying to figure out what is being said in English, I have to applaud the writers and producers of this show. Thank you for *finally* bringing a show to television that incorporates the 3rd largest language in Canada (behind English and French) and 3rd largest language in America (behind English and Spanish) into a television show."

      "I've been taking ASL for awhile. The deaf community and the ability to communicate with your hands is so amazing. And now finally a show that uses that without over doing anything. Its the perfect mix of signing and voicing. I'm glued to the TV and am like a little kid with a book. I stay up all night watching it and screaming at the TV. "

      "Daphne's speech is incredible, it's very rare that she sounds even remotely like a deaf person so many people in the show assume that she can hear normally. In one episode she gets a job in a kitchen and installs mirrors to see what is behind her as she could easily turn and bump into someone without it."

      "of course I think the show is morally bankrupt and would not recommend it to any family or any high school person.but then again have you noticed the way television is going you would be better to guard your children by throwing away your television."

      "After watching Switched at Birth since the start, I have come to realize that the series is more about being deaf in America, than being, well, switched at birth. And I really like that. More shows should explore what most people consider just a way to cope with a handicap, but what actually is its own culture and a beautiful form of expression."

 

      Switched at Birth is currently available on US station ABC Family, along with many online websites that archive and broadcast episodes.

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