Switched at Birth is a television show featured on ABC Family that has truly brought American Sign Language and Deaf Culture into the living rooms of today’s generation. It is the first television show to feature several deaf actors/characters and entire scenes shot using only ASL.
Switched at Birth is about two teen girls and their families who come to find out that they were switched at the hospital and have been raised by each other’s biological families. Bay Kennish, played by Vanessa Marano, is the artistic daughter of a wealthy two-parent family and Daphne Vasquez, played by Katie Leclerc, is the deaf daughter of a working-class single mother. The drama surrounding the two families unfolds as they learn how to live together and get to know the parents/daughters/sisters they never knew.
The show is truly inspirational, witty, and successfully brings Deaf Culture to the forefront with many deaf and hard of hearing characters portrayed by deaf and hard of hearing actors and actresses including Katie Leclerc, Sean Berdy, Marlee Matlin, and Ryan Lane.
The Main Characters
Actress Vanessa Marano
Actress Katie Leclerc
Actress Lea Thompson
Actor D.W. Moffett
Actress Constance Marie
Actor Lucas Grabeel
Actor Sean Berdy
Actress Marlee Matlin
A Show In American Sign Language
American Sign Language is used in every episode and in almost every scene of Switched at Birth. And on March 4, 2013, ABC Family aired the first and only television episode shot entirely in ASL. It was a smash hit and the first of its kind. The episode was incredibly moving and inspirational.
Since all of the American Sign Language on the show is captioned, it can be great practice for ASL students to see a variety of signs and signers on the show. There have been a few incorrect signs noticed on the show, but they are few and far between. And while SIMCOM (simultaneous communication–signing and speaking at the same time) is not thoroughly accepted in the Deaf Community, the hearing actors have truly done a great job learning the language and portraying it accurately on screen.
Some Deaf Culture Lessons From The Show
The Deaf Culture norms portrayed in the show are pretty spot on and incredibly educational for viewers.
As early as the first episode of Season One, when you see Regina Vasquez, Daphne’s mother, for the first time, she answers a telephone in their home connected to a flashing light. This is known as a telephone signaling system to alert a deaf or hard of hearing person visually when the phone is ringing. There are many other types of technology used by deaf people in everyday life. You can read more about them on our Deaf Technology page.
Also in episode one, when Kathryn Kennish, played by Lea Thompson, meets Daphne and Regina at her home for the first time, she communicates with Daphne by shouting. Regina informs her that no matter how loud she shouts, Daphne still can’t hear her. Shouting is actually a surprisingly common mistake made by hearing people. In the show, Daphne is able to lipread, so Kathryn is told to face her and talk normally. Later in the episode, you also learn that not all deaf people read lips or speak.
John Kennish also brings up the option of a cochlear implant for Daphne with Regina which starts a great discussion about how deaf people do not view themselves as handicapped or needing to be “fixed” or “helped” while hearing people commonly do.
The show also portrays what life is like for kids attending a school for the deaf instead of a mainstream program at a hearing school. They even cover name signs and how you’re not supposed to create your own in Deaf Culture.
We don’t want to give too much away, so you can learn more about Deaf Culture and read some recommended Do’s and Don’ts from our visitors on our Deaf Culture page.
Watching Switched at Birth
Switched at Birth airs on ABC Family and is currently available to watch online via Netflix and Hulu.
You can also buy Season One on DVD:
This is truly a wonderful show for anyone interested in learning ASL. And if that’s you, we actually offer free online ASL classes right on this site. You can find them on our Learn Sign Language page. It’s super easy to follow and a whole lot of fun. We encourage everyone to learn at least a little ASL because it is the third most used language in the United States and you never know when you might want to use it! Get started today!