A number of you have been telling me to watch Switched At Birth, and after today’s panel at the Television Critics Association press tour, I can see why you’re all so enthusiastic (I also have the first season DVDs now, so I’ll get on that, likely on the plane home). The show’s creator Lizzy Weiss said it was so important to her that the character of Daphne Vasquez be played by an actress who was deaf or hard of hearing so they would both be fluent in ASL and have a sense of the cultural implications and perspectives of deafness that she limited casting to candidates who didn’t have all their hearing and searched beyond established actresses to find someone who would be right for the part before eventually casting Katie Leclerc, who has Meniere’s disease, for the part.
“It was important to me that the character feel and sound more deaf than Katie is,” Weiss said. “Having a deaf accent is part of being distanced from someone deaf, and I wanted her biological family to feel uncomfortable around her at first…Katie will tell you she worked with people to get that accent right.”
It was genuinely touching to see the rest of the cast talk about what learning ASL — or working on an ASL-friendly set, in the case of Sean Berdy, who had an ASL translator working with him — had meant to them. Vanessa Marano, whose father is a language professor, said she grew up being taught that it was important to be bilingual, and since the show has started, she’s been touched by the fact that the show is used to teach students about ASL and to consider learning it as a second language. Constance Marie, who plays Regina Vasquez, teared up talking about the conversations she’s had with deaf people who have been moved by her portrayal of a hearing woman learning ASL to communicate better with her deaf daughter. All in all, it sounds like a show where the cast ended up having a particularly good experience by learning about a world that wasn’t their own. I’ll check back in once I’m caught up with some thoughts whether that’s made for good TV, too.