ABC’s “Switched at Birth,” is a show that many of us know as two girls who discover that they were switched at birth (hence the show’s title). Actress Katie Leclerc, portrays Daphne one of the show’s main characters who is deaf. Consequently, throughout the show, viewers are given insight on deaf culture.
Here are a few of the many interesting topics that “Switched at Birth” has helped shed light on regarding deaf culture:
1. Sign Language is NOT universal
On “Switched at Birth,” there’s an episode where Daphne encounters a deaf person who communicates in Mexican Sign Language. Just as every country has its own spoken language, each country has its own unique sign language.
2. Not all deaf people read lips
Reading lips isn’t a simple task and some people take this for granted. Hearing someone speak is effortless vs. having to read lips. When reading lips, one has to pay close attention to the person’s mouth movements while trying to decipher each word which can be an exhausting task, especially if someone is talking too fast. Besides, there are other ways for deaf and hearing people (who don’t know sign language) to communicate such as through writing or texting.
3. Deaf does not equal being mute
In the past, it was common for deaf people to be referred to as deaf-mute. The majority of deaf people can definitely vocalize (i.e., laugh, yell). Therefore, it is wrong to automatically assume that someone who is deaf is also mute.
4. Deaf vs. Hard-of-Hearing vs. Hearing Impaired
Referring to a deaf person as “hearing impaired” is considered to be highly insulting as it implies that a person who is deaf is damaged. The current acceptable word to use when referring to a deaf person is “deaf.” The term “hard-of-hearing” can be used to describe a person who has minor-to-moderate hearing loss.
5. No need to speak louder to a deaf person
On “Switched at Birth,” there’s a scene where a character raises their voice upon realizing the person they’re talking to is deaf. Speaking louder to a deaf person isn’t going to make a difference. They are deaf. Definition: unable to hear.
“Switched at Birth” has tackled many false and ignorant views people may have on deaf people such as them not being able to drive, raise kids, and have jobs. As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I can speak from experience and through my vast exposure of deaf culture that deaf people can indeed do essentially everything a hearing person can. Many deaf people take pride in being deaf because it’s a part of their culture and who they are. However, that doesn’t mean that a person’s deafness defines who they are entirely.
What’s great about “Switched at Birth” is that there hasn’t been many TV shows in mainstream media that consistently talk about deaf culture. If you haven’t watched “Switched at Birth” you can watch the show on ABC or on Netflix. Perhaps “Switched at Birth” will inspire future television shows in mainstream media to create shows that feature a predominately deaf cast.