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Concerns about Switched at Birth Presenting an All-ASL Episode

March 1st, 2013 by | Tags: , | 59 Comments »

KATIE LECLERC, VANESSA MARANOWhile 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.


March 1, 2013 at 10:43 am

We are volunteer citizen advocates for Captioning – inclusion of quality captioning universally. Membership in the official CCAC non-profit organization (hundreds, thousands on social media, we welcome more!) has many with implants, etc. Most of us speak and also consider ourselves “deaf, deafened, or people with hearing loss” who do not use sign language. Some (and we welcome more) are deaf and use signing. Our identities are further blurred by confusion over who “must” or “should” or “needs to” learn and use sign language, and this too sets up barriers to communication resources we need more of.
(NB: we support sign language for those who need it or choose it; at the same time, assumptions that all use it and value it for their own lives is not reality.) Thanks for your post here.

March 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

It’s a joke, having Josh Swiller being the “deaf culture consultant”. He only knows what’s going on at Gallaudet and maybe hears things or sees stuffs online. I agree, the show should have CI recipient(s) on the show. But the show is not portraying what deaf culture is like in the USA. Maybe in the Bay Area like at CSDF, but hey, not in every deaf school. It’s not like that. It’s just television. That is all.

March 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I agree, and I’ve been disappointed by the fact that CIs are never mentioned on Switched at Birth. They were briefly mentioned in the beginning, and I believe Regina called it ‘brain surgery’ which is completely false. I was waiting for the show to clarify and give factual information and they never did. Argh!

I’ve been assuming Noah will lose the rest of his hearing, since they keep bringing up his progressive loss, and he will get a CI. Let me just say — if he DOES lose his hearing and doesn’t get a CI, that will come off as totally unbelievable.

I can understand someone immersed in Deaf culture, as Daphne was, as being against it. But someone who grew up hearing, with a hearing family, would not shun the idea of a CI and it would be crazy for them not to pursue that storyline with him.

That said, I love watching the sign language on the show. I grew up with a hearing loss and lost all of my hearing in 2008. (I now have two CIs.) I never learned sign language, other than some basic signs, but I love to watch it! :)


March 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Great post! In real life, someone like Noah — who was born hearing — would get a cochlear implant and not just rely on sign language. This show is NOT reflective of real life, despite Lizzy Weiss’ quote that she’s just being honest. Deaf schools merely perpetuate the bubble and make it harder for people to function in real life. I get it, sign language is visual and dramatic, but the show is focusing on it at too high of an expense!

Sue Smith

March 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I love the show and have been watching it since the beginning. I am late deafend adult with 2 CI’s. I have been a little disappointed in the last few episodes because of the attitude towards the hearing students. I almost feel like that is how they truly feel. I would hate to see them lose viewers because of this. I also hope they do a positive story line on CI’s.


March 1, 2013 at 7:49 pm

The show is good and stirs many emotions. However, showing only ASL as a tool for HOH/deaf students is really detrimental for youth who are in elementary school or younger. Most families don’t even have access to a “deaf” school, some states don’t even have a school for the deaf anymore! I agree if they are going to have ASL on the show, they also need to have equal representation of listening and spoken language.


March 1, 2013 at 9:47 pm

I have to agree. In one of the earlier episodes when Regina told the Kennishes why she never got a CI for Daphne, I felt a bit offended. I also don’t like the way the show promotes Daphne as this super lip reader who manages almost every hearing situation easily without needing multiple repeats or asking people to look at her over and over. I think it gives people unrealistic expectations about lip reading.


March 1, 2013 at 10:35 pm

I watch the show and find it odd and unrealistic that there is no one on the show that mentions CIs. Even when college options were spoke about no mention of NTID. It seems that the writers are purposefully steering away from the deaf-oral population and cochlear implants all together.

March 1, 2013 at 11:12 pm

I watched a couple of episodes of this show and they were unable to hold my interest because of the lack of realism in the story line. It was the same thing with “Sue Thomas F.B.Eye.” I did read Sue Thomas’ story, which is very interesting, and because I spent many years relying on lip reading I know the depth of her skill. What bothered me is that the entertainment industry doesn’t always care about accuracy in the interest of drama and entertainment. I agree that we need to get more accurate information about cochlear implants to the public in general and it would be great if this show would participate in that process.


March 1, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I saw this post regarding CI. I think one character in one episode has a cochlear implant. I forget who it is, but i saw it on the switched at birth website once. I enjoy the show. I do get to see it at times. I am born deaf and use sign language and do not have a cochlear implant and i am glad they use deaf people and hard of hearing but i do agree they could have more CI people and have all degrees of deaf and hard of hearing in the show. i am glad they show a show like this as it sets more awareness to hearing people about people like us.


March 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm

If they put someone on there with a cochlear implant, I want it on display and I want it portrayed as it is—instead of something that gives you regular hearing.

The media has sent out some messages indirectly that a cochlear is a “cure” that we sit and dream about. C’mon now


March 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm

I want a cochlear implant recepient on there and have it on display. Yes there are people out there that don’t realize what one really looks like.

Lots of great ideas for the show above btw,

The principal saying a cochlear implant is “miracle technology” once again reinforces the very ignorant idea that 1.) there is a “cure” for deafness and of course that’s the most important thing right? Bc without a “miracle” gadget which does not exist btw TV people, we feel “incomplete” 2.) hearing is more important to us than education, career etc.

News flash! Hearing is not a “skill” or talent. (:

Cindy Sue Truman

March 1, 2013 at 11:55 pm

There is so much drama with the hearing community, the deaf community, and the CI community for an awesome show. I agree and wish the writers would be more proactive and do a show about the CI journey. Surgery is the easy part, rehab and mapping is the hard part. But it is not just the “Switched at Birth ” program but ALL programs. Like Oprah, the Doctors, Fox news Live, and many others are and do not educated viewers of the miracles of the CI journey. In fact today is my CI birthday of 6 years going deaf and implantation. I went deaf from a severe sinus infection. Went to bed hearing that was muffled and awoke DEAF bilaterally. All is good, and great for I am and had a miracle of the Cochlear Implant. Yahoooooo. We really need to expose the public to the trials and triumphs of the CI. I am blessed and I pray too that others become blessed also. By God’s Grace, there for I go. I maybe deaf but I hear from my HEART


March 2, 2013 at 12:05 am

Have to agree with you about Sue Thomas, Glenice. I saw her speak a few years back. The REAL Sue Thomas read lips off a video screen that she could replay over and over and over. She could also zoom in on the lips and tongue. Real life people don’t read lips through binoculars and get it 100% right on the first try, not even professionals like Sue Thomas. It’s such a joke.

As to Daphne, they do portray her struggling a bit at times, but mostly she effortlessly embraces every hearing challenge, explaining, “It’s OK– I read lips.”

March 2, 2013 at 12:10 am

There are so many different views to one that has the Cochlear Implant ( CI )…. The writers at Switched at Birth have an exceptional opportunity to capture a wonderful group of of users. Many like the CI others would rather not have a CI. Both are a equal. I just wish more writers for programs like (SAB) switchched at birth would grab it and run with it to educate the public. Just think about it. Oprah, the Doctor’s, the Kelly show, Jimmy Kimmble live, and many sitcoms have not addressed the trials and triumphs of the CI. Until it is brought to the attention of the public no one will ever really THINK about it. Mine was adult onset. Went to bed hearing awoke deaf in both ears. My journey has not been easy, but I would not trade it for ANYTHING in this world for I have met so many wonderful people. Surgery is the easy part, rehab and mapping is the difficult part. Not all programs are closed captioned, cartoons do not have lips~ so no lip reading here….. forget the plays and movies. It was really strange to go to a wedding deaf, I had to depend on my hubby to tell me when to stand and sit. Ha ha Hee hee. So all in all lets educated the public… those who hear and those who are deaf. Life is short…..but if we can make it better … it totally is worth it…<3


March 2, 2013 at 12:11 am

The thing about deaf people in the media and the differences between those who don’t use CIs and those who do is that deaf people with CIs are generally perceived as better because they are conforming to the hearing society, whereas deaf people without CIs are looked down as pitiful, dependent, abnormal, etc. The hearing society, in general, has issues with providing better services for deaf people and with deaf people not using CIs or HAs or speech. And honestly, most advocates of CIs don’t want CI users using ASL at any point.

Michelle Goodwin

March 2, 2013 at 12:28 am

I’m so surprised at the article and comments here. I’m a deaf TOD and think that the show is great for showing a hidden aspect of deafness that many people and the media have a negative view of out of fear of the ‘unknown’.
Simple question for all you with CI( I speak from experience from working with kids with CI) – how many of you can HONESTLY say that you can understand group conversations 100% of the time? If you don’t know- then sign language gives a full access to group conversations. That enables me to partake and develop my social skills and personality fully as I can express myself fully. Don’t say I’m one sided as I can talk and lipread very well. My family do not sign and I can partake in hearing group conversations. I KNOW the quality is different as I’ve access to both worlds.

I’m not against CI at all and can marvel at its success particularly if implanted from a very young age; what annoys is the media’s perception of it as ‘a miracle cure’ and that it restores 100% hearing which is not true. Some people may hear/ speak well but you can never say they are 100% hearing.

If CIs are such a marvel, then how come deaf people are still not on par with their peers in education and employment today? CI implanted people still need support regardless.

Now, back to my point- the show is simply showing an aspect of deafness in a positive celebrated way accepting diversity which society needs to acknowledge.

I support all deaf children with CI or hearing aids in whichever communication method they choose/ are comfortable with- sign language or oral ism as long they are rounded, developed individuals with 100% access to information.

March 2, 2013 at 1:24 am

Hi. I would like to weigh in here. I became suddenly and profoundly Deaf at 17. I am now 49. I did not get a CI back then. It was not popular, it was expensive, and the surgery scared me. I didn’t want things sticking on my skull or buried underneath it. This is my personal preference, not coming from any cultural or geographical influence. Just personal choice.

Instead, I chose to accept my self fully as I am. I chose to embrace my Deaf identity by learning ASL. I dove into Deaf Studies just so I could understand more deeply what being Deaf was all about. That learning helped me see myself ok. It was the beginning of my journey of Deafhood, which has continued to the present.

I had the experience of being “hearing impaired” while attending college as a freshman right out of high school, struggling to lipread, and depend on hearing aids that did not work for me. I have a condition called recruitment that amplifies sounds at certain frequencies which make volume very painful. Poor speech discrimination pretty much guaranteed that a CI and hearing aids were not going to do it for me. I was so depressed until I began learning ASL. I could finally see a way to stay in communication through my eyes. I learned how to access and request interpreters. What a difference that made!!!

I also had the experience of being a special visiting student at Gallaudet for 5 months as a junior in college, where my social life soared, my grades were fantastic, where I participated fully in theater plays, church programs and social outings because I knew and used ASL.

The comparison between the two experiences was a no brainer for me. I could be “diabled”, “impaired,” “broken,” “in the dark,” and “isolated” while viewing myself with a deficit mentality – as something that needed to be fixed. Or, I could be “In-the-know,” “successful,” “involved,” “contributing,” and feel “whole” by learning, using and accessing ASL. The choice was easy. I chose a non-invasive, natural approach – a return to wholeness.

Embracing my Deaf self and ASL rather than rejecting it or trying to repair it, brought me back my sense of worth and confidence.

I never went to a Deaf school as a kid. I didn’t have the experience many Deaf children have with those deficit labels or experiences above. My experience happened later in life, like the character Noah on the show. My point: Do not assume Noah (or folks in real life) would automatically get a CI. He might take a different journey if he has the right support. Everyone is different. The cool thing is that by 17, you have a choice. Babies and children often do not.

While I agree it might be interesting to have a character with a CI on the show, I think it’s fair to say TV land still has a long way to go to get real life down. They are not portraying any experience as it plays out in real life. TV adds and takes away based on what sells. There are gripes and grumbles from every side. The cool thing is that it makes us think and dialogue, so I applaud your post for that reason.

Our differences are what makes us beautiful.

LaRonda Zupp

Mel Whalen

March 2, 2013 at 1:43 am

Thank you for bringing up this important issue. I agree with you that we need more characters with cochlear implants.


March 2, 2013 at 1:48 am

The facts quoted her are right on. As an educator in our state School for the Deaf, I can vouch for the fact that 80% of the kids speak and listen. It’s a real small group of deaf kids that don’t use either Cochlear Implant/Hearing Aids/BAHA (whatever they need for their hearing loss) and sign only. Even in the kids in Deaf Culture, I’m seeing a lot more cochlear implant users. As a deaf individual myself, I can attest that the life portrayed on TV in Switched at Birth is reflective of a tiny minority of deaf people. Like the author states, there is lots of conflict that can be played up if they add cochlear implantees to the cast. That only matters as I know drama needs conflict to make it pull an audience. I can’t tell you how many people think I’m “faking being deaf”, because they have such a narrow stereotypical view of what “Deaf” is, and I’m not it. It gets really old to be expected to live by stereotypes in the world at large who hasn’t got a clue beyond what the media feeds them. I applaud the focus on deafness and etc. in Switched at Birth, but I wonder when they will enter the real world that 80% of us live in.


March 2, 2013 at 2:12 am

It’s a tv show – I don’t think it has an ethical obligation to show deafness in its full range. But supposing the writers did want to do so, then they would also need to show implanted children who choose later in life to not use their implant or who rely on both the implant and ASL. These groups are part of the cochlear implant community too. I for one am thrilled to see national exposure to ASL. Most deaf children are born to hearing parents and they learn about options for their children from audiologists and people in the medical profession for whom cochlear implants are the approach of choice. As a mainstreamed oral deaf child who came to ASL and the deaf community late in life, I think it’s fabulous that this show may help future parents of deaf children realize other tools for negotiating hearing loss exist and that there are benefits to ASL that cochlear implants don’t have (for example, the social community that comes with the language).


March 2, 2013 at 2:24 am

My very brief two cents is: why would anyone, Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing or otherwise, object to a show that features characters that are culturally Deaf? If you are a deaf or hard of hearing person that is mainstreaming and identifying as a listening and speaking person, then in reality ALL of the rest of the shows on television are depicting the lifestyle you are aspiring to. This is one show among thousands on television. ASL users have very few mirrors of themselves on television. Why begrudge them this one?

I say all this as someone who loves his hard of hearing son and will fight to the end for his right to practice whatever model of deafness he finds that suits him best..

Sheena McFeely

March 2, 2013 at 2:34 am

We can all go into circles with your post.

I was born profoundly deaf, wore hearing aids, and spoke orally. My parents and entire family are hearing. Years passed by and I got older…my parents saw that I was getting frustrated with just lip reading all day long in a school environment. For those who are not Deaf or HH, to lip read is not one easy task. And we cannot catch everything even if you are an expert. My parents decided to put me in a different program where speaking and signing was allowed. A place we can choose without any barriers or oppression. This is very true especially that most hearing people put a higher emphasis on being about to hear and speak well. After the placement, I grew SO MUCH. My parents only wished I was enrolled much earlier. From there, I was very involved with sports (swim and water polo) as well as other clubs. I spoke to some…I signed to some… I used an interpreter to get through my classes. My GPA was above 3.5 and I had the privilege of having many friends. I even dated three hearing guys – all learned ASL for me. Is that negative? Heck no.

Went to college and gained more friends from both worlds (I’d like to think of them as one world unlike most). Married to a wonderful Deaf guy. Funny, charming, and intelligent. Currently, we have two beautiful girls – one is Deaf and one is hearing. We are having such a ball. Their first language is American Sign language. Yes, we do experience oppression by hearing plus from our own people. Heck, we all do! But our choices are our choices.

Since you are so determined with your post, can I kindly encourage you to check out my website ( ) ? Feel free to read all of the Deaf women’s backgrounds. You’ll be amazed by their stories. At the end of the day, we need to remind ourselves that we are human. No need to be so black and white. A wise man once said its best for the whites and blacks to be together. We need to embrace the black and whites of the Deaf community.

Might I add…Hollywood rarely represents the “non cochlear implant” characters. SAB has the main character speaking so well. Not only that, she also has her own opinion – she wants to mingle with the hearing people and stay connected with the Deaf. That’s very normal. Then there’s Emmett who’s from a Deaf family and signs only. That’s very normal. There is more diversity in this show alone than any others.


March 2, 2013 at 2:45 am

Had to say something on the comment that deaf people weren’t on the same level as peers with education,etc.

I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean “all” I am hoh as are many of my friends and all of us (including myself) have higher than a Bachelor’s (I have an M.S. ) and have or have had great jobs. Not always had great jobs, as with hearing people as well. Is it harder? Absolutely. Much harder for me. But I finished grad school(I was mainstreamed through elementary and high school with a B average) with a 3.4 and a career traveling and working 50 plus hours a week. I did want to say I’m hoh and not totally without hearing. However, I don’t know any HOH or deaf people who fit in the description you gave. However, I haven’t seen any who haven’t really struggled but it didn’t stand in their ( or my) way

Sorry in advance for any typos as I’m sick.


March 2, 2013 at 2:50 am

Thanks everyone for their input.

I do want to say where do people get off telling people they are faking? I’ve gotten that too.

My response is until you are well qualified to give me an audiogram and make that decision shut the $&@”;: up :)


March 2, 2013 at 3:04 am

Even as this column tries to talk about the diversity of hearing loss, it also disregards that same inherent quality. Hearing loss IS diverse in type and cause, and one thing far too many people fail to understand or recognize is that there are people and children who do not fit the criteria for cochlear implants or hearing aids (and yet some still are implanted). And even after meeting the criteria and receiving implants, some don’t take to it. I’ve seen a 4-year-old completely reject her CI and throw tantrums because she couldn’t communicate with or without it – it was not working for her, for whatever reason, and her parents recognized it but didn’t know what else they could do. The CI community also continues to ignore and brush under the rug the number of recipients who, by their teens or 20s, either bridge cultures or defect altogether to ASL because they see positives in it (as a few people have already mentioned in this comments section). The idea of normalization – that spoken language is the best mode of communication – neglects the value of diversity and those for whom technology isn’t the answer, or a complete answer.

Those for whom the technology works should not begrudge others this culture and sense of unity and belonging, or the opportunity for it to be recognized and portrayed in the media after a century of oppression and forced normalization of deaf children at any cost by oralists. Those who don’t or can’t benefit from technology deserve support and acceptance, not devaluation and being written off as less relevant or worthy. Don’t brush them under the rug and say that just because they’re fewer in number, they don’t deserve representation in the media of their culture and ways of living and communicating. If anything, they deserve it more because they’re more often shunted aside, hidden, ignored, marginalized, devalued and written off than people with CIs who fit some supposed “ideal” of striving to normalize and fit in with the hearing world.

I recommend you read this column about a recent, similar issue:


March 2, 2013 at 3:06 am

Thank you everyone for taking time to share your feedback! I would like to reiteriate that this post is not about which method of communication or which lifestyle is superior. I am merely asking that the show include deaf characters who speak and hear with cochlear implants while portraying deaf characters who communicate in sign language. Because of the statistics that I posted, they need to accurately present the reality of a large group of deaf people in 21st century.

Michelle Goodwin: “how many of you can HONESTLY say that you can understand group conversations 100% of the time?”

My comment is in no way to express that I am superior, but I do want to share my personal experiences about this situation. I want to say that it is a fact that I can understand group conversations 100% of the time. According to my hearing tests, I understand speech 100% in quiet and 90% to 100% in noise. With the technological advancements of cochlear implants, cochlear implant recipients have the option to fully customize and adjust their programs to hear well in difficult listening situations.


March 2, 2013 at 3:18 am

I think it’s great that your CI works so well for you, but that isn’t the case for a number of other recipients. To be truly inclusive and representative of the full spectrum, SAB would have to include an individual like you, an individual for whom the CI doesn’t work fully in group settings, and a person who has rejected his/her CI (and probably a dozen other people with CIs).

Have you talked to other CI recipients who don’t benefit as fully from their CIs as you do? I know one person who can’t use all their nodes because some just don’t work for him, and he doesn’t even bother with group conversations. It’s important to recognize that CIs don’t always work for everyone, even when fully customized and adjusted, and that it is completely no fault of the person if the CI doesn’t confer on them 100% comprehension, as it does for you.

I think this is really important for the public to understand, that even with CIs, the range of success is highly variable. You “lucked out,” if you want to put it that way. There are many others who haven’t. What kind of CI character should be represented on SAB? It’s really hard for anyone to say, because there are so many diverse CI experiences. And a show can deal with only so many characters in so much time per episode. This much has to be true – whatever the show depicts, it is bound to upset a lot and please few.

March 2, 2013 at 3:23 am

It’s a TV show, not a documentary.

March 2, 2013 at 4:52 am

Rachel, thank you for addressing the upcoming episode. I, too, share your concerns each week but this coming Monday in particular. This show continues to just take us back so many steps when it comes to hearing loss/cochlear implant/listening and spoken language awareness. It is truly a shame that rather than teaching this young generation about the amazing new technology and opportunities available for today’s children with hearing loss, it is instead choosing to move back in time by reenacting Deaf President Now. I’m sure we can all prepare for an online ‘brawl’ so-to-speak Monday night after the show. I’m exhausted just thinking about it! I will continue trying to bring accurate hearing loss awareness to the mainstream as much as I can through videos like “That’s Just the Way We Hear” and through my Sophie’s Tales series, but with such a big-league outlet like ABCFamily, it’s in no way easy to try to compete to raise awareness of listening and spoken language. We will persevere though!! Mel


March 2, 2013 at 5:22 am

This post says: “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.”

And then the follow-up comment says: ” I would like to reiteriate that this post is not about which method of communication or which lifestyle is superior.”


March 2, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Rachel –

I am not sure I understand what you meant
“understand 100% in speech and 90% to 100% in noise.”

when you have some kids running or tapping in noise, how can you hear and understand 90% to 100%?

Please clarify.


By the way, good post!


March 2, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Marie -

With good rehabilitation and practice, deaf people who hear with cochlear implants can learn to filter out background noise including kids running or tapping. Also, sound processors have programs that will also lower or take out “unwanted noise.”


March 2, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Jill – “…there are benefits to ASL that cochlear implants don’t have (for example, the social community that comes with the language).”

Cochlear implant recipients do have social communities too. While they can choose to be part of their home community, but also, they have the opportunity to be part of “cochlear implant” communities. Many organizations such as AGBell, Bionic Ear Association, Cochlear Awareness Network and HearPeers offer numerous gathering events for cochlear implant recipients and also places online where they can share their experiences. Some of these gatherings can have as many as over 1000 people!


March 2, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Tara – Please be mindful that your statements are just anecdotal evidences that do not present the real hard facts about cochlear implants and listening and spoken language. While it is true that success of cochlear implants do vary from individual to individual, it is a fact according to many studies that cochlear implants do indeed work well for majority of the individuals. If it didn’t work well or didn’t provide improved quality of life, it wouldn’t be in the market in the first place.

Because of the results of research studies and I have met hundreds of cochlear implant recipients who hear very well and communicate through listening and spoken language with ease, I truly can never call myself “lucked out” or exceptional. My case is very typical and normal.

These research studies present stellar results in speech comprehension in both quiet and noise:

Here are a couple of many studies that prove that cochlear implants do indeed provide outstanding outcomes in language development:

When one does not benefit from a cochlear implant, it is very rarely because of the technology itself as according to all cochlear implant manufacturers’ reliability stats, at least 95% of cochlear implants continue to work after at least five years. It is usually because of lack of rehabilitation, little to no quality support from parents, other family members or professionals, age of cochlear implantation, or unusual anatomy issues.


March 2, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Julia – ‘People who live with little obstacles are superior to others’ is your own personal opinion. In my personal opinion, how much obstacles people face does not determine how superior they are. There are people who faced a great amount of adversity and are truly superior. Examples include Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, and Albert Einstein. They are all truly “superior” because they changed the world for the better.


March 2, 2013 at 4:57 pm

When stating that CI users have little to no obstacles in life-that’s both asserting superiority of that device as a tool in the deaf experience and dismissing the obstacles CI users do face.

Implant failure; mapping erasure from static electricity; economic barriers in treatment, maintenance and upgrading; not knowing sign language to use during implant issues, water sports and other times- those are obstacles.

In your blog you also state that it is “unimaginable to live in a silent world”.


March 2, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Julia – Again, that’s your own opinion. You are the one who is deciding that those deaf people with cochlear implants who live with little obstacles are superior.

Also, I would like to correct your misinformation about cochlear implants. Today’s cochlear implants are waterproof and can be used in the pool, ocean and shower. Even if they’re not waterproof, there are methods to make them waterproof. Thus, cochlear implant recipients face almost ZERO communication barriers in water situations today. Here are some information about them:

Mapping erasure from static electricity is an EXTREMELY RARE occurrence today, and should if it happens, it’s a very EASY fix. All they have to do is upload a new MAP or replace the sound processor. Cochlear implant manufacturers replace sound processors within 24 hours.

Maintaining sound processors pose no deterioration in the quality of life. They are just simply little chores like cleaning the kitchen table, doing financial work, and doing laundry that are part of our lifestyle.

Upgrading sound processors is NOT a negative situation at all. When new sound processors are released, cochlear implant recipients CELEBRATE like people who celebrate when new iPhones and iPads are released.


March 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I also want to add that cochlear implant failures are extremely rare. Less than one percent of cochlear implants fail within the first year and only a very small percentage, about less than 5 percent fail within the first decade.

Here are the reliability stats from two of the three manufacturers.


March 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Julia –

I honestly don’t understand what you are trying to say, “economic barriers in treatment, maintenance and upgrading; not knowing sign language to use during implant issues, water sports and other times- those are obstacles.”

Please elaborate this statement.

If there are no medical insurance to cover on the new upgradings, then, get a lawyer to fight on those essential issues.

In Wisconsin the state voted to support and accept the bill# to have an insurance to cover the cochlear implants several years ago as for instance. There will be more medical bill #s in the politics coming up in America.

I am pretty sure the researchers/engineers to work on “waterproof” cochlear implants. At this point, engineers are now working on the “waterproof” Iphone/smartphone.

There will be much less in obstacles. Sorry to say that….


March 2, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I don’t think CI users are superior, but why would one state that “living in a silent world is unimaginable” if they did not?

It’s inaccurate to assume that all deaf individuals and families have the insurance, coverage or finances to pursue legal accountability for CI surges, auditory therapies and other neccesities for maintaining the benefits of CI treatment. Or that all these people will get the maximum coverage that includes advanced technologies like waterproof devices.

Implant failure and difficulties are not uncommon, and there is no guarantee a CI will work. In 2012- Cochlear spent more on recall expenses than their entire overhead combined.

It is clearly a tool for many people and should be respected as such. Wanting to see a CI role model on a deaf TV show is appropriate and understandable. I support that and think many sign language users also support that.


March 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Again, the statement “it is unimaginable to live in a silent world” does not equate to a person being more superior. It simply means that I have a strong preference to live in world with sounds and I don’t like missing out on music, hearing people’s conversations, and sounds of films.

As Melody said on the show, “Until hearing people walk a day in our shoes, they will never understand. Never.” This is the same case for deaf people who never heard a sound in their life. They will never understand why hearing is such an integral aspect of our life until they walk in our shoes.


March 2, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Marie –

Not every family can afford to hire a lawyer to assist their battle in getting insurance coverage.

While there are families who are indeed still facing battles to get insurance coverage for cochlear implantation for children, there are support to assist them. Cochlear implant manufacturers have an insurance support department where they will assist them in fighting with the insurance. If the battle fails, there are non-profit organizations such as Gift of Hearing Foundation and Help Me Hear Foundation that provide funds for families who have absolutely no way of being able to get cochlear implants covered.


March 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm

The statement “it is unimaginable to live in a silent world” doesn’t specify an individual preference- but generalizes an experience.

I was a hearing person, and now I am a deaf person. I still prefer my sensory experience, so I don’t think that equation is necessarily reversed.


March 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm


Right. That’s how it works. I think we are all grateful to have many nonprofit organizations to help many underprivileged families that could not afford anything.

Julia, You stated:

“It’s inaccurate to assume that all deaf individuals and families have the insurance, coverage or finances to pursue legal accountability for CI surges, auditory therapies and other neccesities for maintaining the benefits of CI treatment. Or that all these people will get the maximum coverage that includes advanced technologies like waterproof devices.”

you CANNOT protest, blame or attack any nonprofit organizations that supports some of the underprivileged individuals and families’ needs.


March 3, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I think you should be more patient. I believe Noah will have a CI soon. The show represents the reality in the deaf/hh community. Just wait….


March 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I think that they should have the facts of ASL, CI oral only, CI bilinguals reality be exposed. We need some actors that are CI bilinguals (ASL and Speak) telling their experience of being in the auditory and visual reality. Learning ASL(American Sign Language) is not just a bonus but a necessity to have a normal social life.

I did not need to learn sign language because I thought ASL is more of a hinder communication method. But I went to Gallaudet University for my adventure experience to be involved in the Deaf culture. After learning American Sign Language, I finally became a normal person in my new social life.

I still communicate verbally everyday and could not live without it but being bilingual using American Sign Language has brought me sanity being able to communicate with no barriers such as reading lips or if my batteries go dead and not being able to hear anything.


March 5, 2013 at 5:18 am

I am a late deafened CI user and I both use ASL and socialize among deaf people/signers, as well as use my CI and speak among hearing people.

I agree that CIs should have representation, but because there is already so much one-sided media representation and propaganda about the miraculousness of CIs, the representation needs to be REALISTIC and show both the positives and negatives.

If the character Noah ever did get a CI, it would set an example for both the hearing world and the Deaf community if he used it but also opted to embrace ASL and continue socializing with his d/Deaf peers.

Just wait, it’ll happen, I’m sure SaB will introduce C.I.s again sometime. They just needed the right opportunity.

March 5, 2013 at 6:47 am

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the actress who plays the role of Daphne HOH, one who wears hearing aids? How many deaf ppl are like her? There are those, too, including myself.

There’s more between the deaf community’s two extremes of the culturally Deaf who use ASL and the CI users who hear and speak. WAY more, with several kinds of communication modes, not just ASL or spoken English. ;)

SAB is just scratching the surface. Whether it will go beyond that is anybody’s guess. At least Hollywood has gotten past the Jane Wyman image of deaf-mute in “Johnny Belinda”. :P



March 8, 2013 at 6:00 am

Rachel – Your experience itself and everything you’ve said about your own implant is anecdotal and just as relevant – or irrelevant – as anyone else’s anecdotal experience. And actually, I believe anecdotes can be equally as important as scientific studies, which can themselves be biased. Scientists formulate hypotheses and design experiments through their particular lens, and those can influence outcomes. I’ve read quite a few studies about language acquisition, including comparisons of children with implants and hearing children, and many of those omit deaf children who communicated primarily in sign language since infancy (one such study actually showed spatial issues and language delays in the CI/nonsigning cohort compared to the hearing cohort, and linked the issues to the delays without considering or exploring whether this hypothesized link holds true for native signers as well). Can one truly say studies are unbiased and neutral when they don’t consider or include what could be a significant cohort? Seeing studies like this puts into question the integrity and validity of most studies that are designed by (ALL hearing) medical researchers who don’t consider the value of including native signers as a cohort. This is why I value anecdotal experiences as an important supplement – they provide another element of the puzzle, and to dismiss those is to marginalize very real experiences by CI users. This dismissal of experiential evidence and accusations of failures on multiple levels by people is also demeaning to them.

My husband has an implant and grew up oral. We’re quite social and between the two of us, we’ve met our fair share of CI users, so you and I don’t need to get in a pissing contest about who has met more. Maybe you’ve met more who had positive experiences, because those people would naturally stay within your circle and be on your radar. I’ve met more who had negative or mixed experiences and chose to learn sign because they were (and I’ve heard this dozens, if not hundreds, of times) “missing something” from their lives. My contact with these particular types of CI users is just the nature of being within the signing community. So for you to say CIs improve quality of life is rather condescending and naive because “quality of life” is such a subjective thing; it improved YOUR quality of life, but it doesn’t do that for others who feel the urge to learn sign and socialize with other deaf people because even with whatever quality of hearing they get from their CIs, they feel their lives still lack something.

I also want to add something for Mel Paticoff, who talks about “moving back in time” with DPN. The SAB episode references DPN, but it depicts events that are quite modern and unfolding in real time for the Deaf community. In quite a few states within the past few years, legislators have debated cutting funding or entirely closing schools for the deaf. California and Indiana faced cuts, and Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Florida are dealing with the threat of cuts or closures. Even AG Bell supports the freedom of choice and the right to access education in one’s chosen language – “AG Bell acknowledges ASL as a language in and of itself. AG Bell also recognizes ASL’s importance in Deaf culture as a unique feature, and a language that many take pride in learning. … AG Bell does not believe that ASL should be prohibited or restricted as a choice, nor does AG Bell advocate against learning ASL as part of a child’s overall development if that is what the child’s parents desire.” Just because a group of people considers deafness a defective, abnormal condition and dismisses the notion of a Deaf culture does not give any validity to the assumption that listening and spoken language is superior to sign language. So, obviously from some of the attitudes and comments I’ve seen here and elsewhere, there’s still a great need for episodes such as SAB’s all-ASL episode to spread awareness about the very real, very current efforts to suppress ASL learning environments and make Deaf people and their culture “disappear.”


March 10, 2013 at 6:39 am


The recent increase of states in America to cut funding thus threatening deaf schools’ existence has NOTHING to do with anyone attempting to suppress “ASL learning environment”. Nor does it have anything to do with states wanting or even causing “Deaf people and their culture disappear”. That will not happen, not in our life time. Even if more than 50% of eligible babies in US get implanted in the next 25 years, deaf culture and sign language will still be around.

State schools for the deaf do not have the number of students they had compared to 30-50 years ago. Thus, funding deaf schools is a big issue for obvious reason.

SAB showed ‘all ASL episode’ to give viewers an idea of how a deaf person relies on their eyes since they do not hear a sound. This falsely tells the public that all deaf are profoundly deaf which is not true. Many deaf do have residual hearing. Many more wear hearing aids and cochlear implants. They also did the episode to mark the 25th anniversary of DPN. But, strangely, the issue of DPN had nothing to do with the university closing down, but rather protest about selecting a deaf president.

SAB did not accurately portray deaf culture nor the real events of deaf culture, but, hey, since when do TV portray how things are like in real life? Almost never. ;)

Recently I watched DPN1 video on Youtube and saw many students, including 3 of the 4 student leaders using their voices while signing. This brought back a memory I have about Gallaudet, I do remember many deaf students using their voices while signing. Technically, that’s called Sim Com.

It may be true that many legislators are ignorant about the deaf, but, when it comes to funding, there are many other services and programs that are cut. Some states have made across the board cuts and did not pick and choose.

The fact that many legislators are ignorant about the various ways a deaf person can choose to be deaf, there is a need to show that the deaf not only sign but also use devices, including using other forms of language.

Do legislators watch SAB? I doubt many do. Educating the legislators should be a personal one between the citizens and them. Not via SAB.

I think SAB is good for increasing awareness among the many young teens and perhaps some adults about deafness (ABC Family is a tween/teen/young adult/young family)channel. So, showing all the ways one can be deaf and the various devices that are available can help increase awareness for more people to be informed should they or someone they know have a deaf child one day.

This would be ASL, SEE, PSE, SE, Cued Speech and etc.; hearing aids, cochlear implants and any other devices that helps one hear. Not to mention the various educational approaches that are available.

I think SAB will include a character with a cochlear implant soon, and I hope they do. Lizzy kept saying she will do that, but that she needed to find a space for a CI character.

I also think they should add CS too, maybe taking on a story about what’s happening at one school for the deaf that have added CS in addition to their ASL instruction. mmmm Not a bad idea, eh?

March 21, 2013 at 10:28 pm

I was very disappointed when in one of the SAB episodes that dealt with mentioning CIs, the Regina character explained it as a “brain” implant. They are either ill informed or using this myth to propagate fear.

April 3, 2013 at 3:12 am

i just finshed this season and that episode bugged me.. they don’t need to make CIs a big ole DEAL but they really aren’t represented at all. thanks for writing. posting on FB. ;)

April 3, 2013 at 3:14 am

just an addendum.. that episode didn’t bug me.. the whole not covering CIs at ALL ever.. bugs me..

April 3, 2013 at 3:33 am

Switched at Birth show is not realistic about what is like to be Deaf. I live in two world of reality which is hearing that I can part of and the pure Deaf reality Ihat I accept to be part of due my needs of normal socialization. Many still don’t get it because of being one-sided reality such as oral only or being in a world of speaking and signing English order. I am a genuine Bilingual Deaf person that can communicate either verbally English or use American Sign Language at the rate of 180 words per minutes data flow rate. I am hoping for more realistic reality show than this Switched at Birth.
John Egbert


June 14, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Great write up. I am a deaf and hard of hearing teacher teaching listening and spoken language! I love the show and I am excited to see how this CI all plays out on the show!


July 10, 2013 at 5:14 am

I appreciate that you want to see a character with a cochlear implant on Switched at Birth; I think it’s a good idea, in order to show the diverse range of deaf experiences in the world. However, there’s a flaw in your logic re: the argument about parents of a new deaf child being in some way harmed by the fact that Switched only shows signing deaf people. In fact, as we all know (and as is reflected in the statistics you provide) doctors provide almost exclusively information on cochlear implantation these days, and when children are implanted, oral-only schools are nearly always recommended. Therefore, while I agree with you that SAB could benefit from a character with a CI, I disagree that it’s doing parents of deaf children a disservice; the mainstream media and medical providers are all heavily skewed toward presenting the “miracles” of CIs, and I don’t think SAB is changing the balance there.


July 13, 2013 at 11:30 pm


I would recommend reading this article which explains in great details about how many professionals are actually still not informing parents of deaf children about cochlear implants and listening and spoken language:

I would also read my input on this article which also explains exactly about how Switched at Birth could be doing a disservice:

While there is definitely a trend in deaf children receiving cochlear implants and learning to hear and speak, the percentage of deaf children speaking and hearing with cochlear implants in the United States is still not as high as it is in other countries. As I mentioned in the article, only about 50% of all children who are qualified for cochlear implants are hearing with the technology today in the United States while in many countries in Europe, more than 90% of deaf children who are qualified for cochlear implants are using the technology. In the article that I shared, it clearly states that it is because many professionals in the United States are not aware that the technology exists, have misinformation about well the technology works, and/or are not providing parents appropriate guidance in how to proceed in cochlear implantation and teaching their deaf children how to hear and speak.


November 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm

There is still a big controversy about CI’s in the Deaf community. If people are treating deafness as something that NEEDS to be fixed, then yes, people will surely oppose the “treatments”. Maybe it depends on one’s location, but here in the New England area, Deaf people are still looked down upon. In this area, Deaf people don’t feel as though it is really a disability. It probably also depends on how one is raised (strongly in the community or in a hearing family with little to no exposure to strong Deaf people).
I like the fact that SAB had an all ASL episode. It was in honor of DPN, historical moment on the Deaf world. The show itself is trying to show that Deaf people are not a sad bunch that need to be pitied or fixed. It’s one thing if the person chooses to get the implant themselves. The issue is when it is forced on someone (like children). If one is going to do the research, do ALL of the research. Talk to people on both sides.
Maybe it’s different in other places. To be honest, nothing will ever be black and white when it comes to making big decisions.