While I haven’t written any commentaries about Switched At Birth’s episodes since the end of the first section of season one, I still have been hooked to the show. Aside from the deafness issues, I have been enjoying the show because seeing how two families from very different lifestyles interact with each other is really fascinating. I also enjoy the suspenses and the big dramas that have been played such as Regina knowing for many years that the girls were switched, Emmett and Simone sleeping together, the final verdict of the court case, and Regina drinking again.
I appreciate and commend Lizzy Weiss, the creator of the show, for bringing in the subject of disability, specifically deafness, to eyes of the public, and creating a better awareness about the talents that people with disabilities can contribute to the world. However, I do have serious issues about how Switched at Birth is portraying deaf people. I want to emphasize greatly that like Daphne, Emmett, Travis, and Melody, I am deaf too! However, none of the deaf characters represent me or thousands of deaf people around the world. The show is very greatly missing a large group of deaf people, those who speak and hear with cochlear implants without the use of sign language like myself. The number of deaf children growing up speaking and hearing with cochlear implants is becoming the norm today. As of 2000, 55% of all deaf children between ages of 12 months and six years old received a cochlear implant and the number is increasing every year. In 2011, 90% of parents of children with hearing loss in North Carolina chose a Listening and Spoken Language approach. According to another statistics, 80% of parents are choosing to teach their deaf children to hear and speak. Parents’ goal for their children to learn to listen and talk is reflective of parent choices throughout the United States and the world. Unlike Daphne, Emmett, and Travis, majority of today’s deaf children are attending mainstream schools where they are learning alongside with hearing peers instead of attending schools for the deaf. Instead of using the video phone, many deaf children today are conversing effortlessly on the phone without any screen.
While the All-ASL episode will truly be groundbreaking and I appreciate the creator of the show willing to create an episode in a way that will put people without a disability in the shoes of those with a disability, I am deeply concerned about the episode and even have been concerned about all episodes. Portraying only deaf people who use sign language can be a great disservice to thousands of people. Many of the viewers watching the show could currently have a baby who was just diagnosed deaf or could possibly one day give birth to a child with hearing loss or could meet someone who has just given birth to a child who failed newborn hearing screening or could be an adult who grew up with hearing and suddenly became deaf and is suffering from isolation and relationship problems. These viewers are likely severely lacking the knowledge of the existence of the technology, cochlear implants. According to the latest statistics, only 5% of all deaf people who are qualified for cochlear implants are hearing with the technology today. Let me emphasize that this does not include just children. This includes a huge number of elders, the fastest growing population of people who are losing hearing. So few people are hearing with cochlear implants simply because of lack of access to information. When asking strangers on the streets, “Do you know what a cochlear implant is?” almost all will respond “No.”
Some of the viewers are also clearly aspired to become sign language interpreters, adopt deaf children and teach them sign language or become a teacher of the deaf to teach deaf children sign language. However, I do not see anyone being aspired to become a therapist to teach deaf children to hear and speak or an audiologist or a cochlear implant surgeon. These careers are very high in demand as we need to meet the needs of growing number of deaf people acquiring cochlear implants.
While the show has mentioned cochlear implants in a couple episodes, including one scene where a school principal called it a “miracle technology,” they still have failed to actually portray deaf characters with cochlear implants and show what these deaf people with cochlear implants are truly capable of doing. While I did initiate a Twitter campaign asking Lizzy to bring in a character with cochlear implants to the show last year and Lizzy did comment that they are planning on bringing in one to the show, I am very disappointed to see one year later that they still have not brought in one character.
I do realize that the creator of the show and writers may be concerned that portraying deaf people who are hearing with cochlear implants and living with little obstacles may have little drama to produce on the show, but I do believe that there are endless of opportunities to create drama. Here are some examples:
- Toby could have a girlfriend who hears with a cochlear implant.
- Daphne or Bay could have a boyfriend who hears with a cochlear implant.
- Characters with cochlear implants could be portrayed as being judgmental towards deaf people who don’t hear with cochlear implants by asking them why they don’t have cochlear implants or insisting they should get a cochlear implant or showing no interest in learning sign language.
- Deaf people who use sign language could be portrayed as being judgmental towards deaf people who hear with cochlear implants too by telling them that they’re not leading a fulfilling life because they don’t use sign language or telling them that they’re being supercilious.
- Noah could lose all hearing suddenly and they can present his journey to getting a cochlear implant, from surgery to activation to relearning to hear again.
It is my understanding that Josh Swiller, a cochlear implant recipient and author of The Unheard, is a deaf-culture consultant for Switched at Birth. If you feel the same way I do about the show, I would contact him. I sincerely hope that he will see this blog post and share my concerns with Lizzy and the writers of the show. I even do hope that Lizzy will come across this blog post too. I would even send tweets to Lizzy if you feel the same way I do. I would love for both of them to consult me personally about how to accurately portray a character with cochlear implants on Switched at Birth.
NOTE ABOUT COMMENTING: Because Cochlear Implant Online is a place to celebrate the miracles of cochlear implants and to provide support for those who choose to speak and hear with cochlear implants, we would like you to please be mindful when writing comments. This is not the place to debate about which communication method is better, as the article does not speak about which method is better. It is about ensuring the inclusion of all deaf people and in accurately portraying the reality of a large number of deaf people in the 21st century. Because no person needs to feel bad about their choice of communication, any comments that merely criticize people’s choice of communication will not be approved.