Paying Homage to “Switched At Birth”

With only a few episodes left, we will soon say goodbye forever to one of my favorite shows on television: Switched at Birth.

Switched at Birth is a series about two teenage girls who find out, after a doing a school blood-typing project, they were switched at birth. Daphne (Katie Leclerc) was raised in the poorer part of town by Regina Vasquez (Constance Marie), a single mother. Bay (Vanessa Marano) lived in a nicer part of town with her wealthy parents, John and Kathryn Kennish (D.W. Moffett and Lea Thompson), and her older brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel).

There have been things here and there that I have disliked, such as the many (I counted about 10) romantic relationships or almost-romantic relationships that Daphne has been a part of throughout the show or Angelo’s (Gilles Marini) death. But, overall, I have reveled in the characters and relationships that show creator Lizzy Weiss conceived and developed over the past five seasons.

One reason I’ve enjoyed this show so much is that it has managed to shine light on the deaf world without being preachy in an after-school-special sort of way. It would have been easy for the writers to use its deaf characters for feel-good moments, similar to the way Glee sometimes used Artie and his wheelchair (which angered me to no end). But from the beginning, it has been clear that Switched at Birth was not interested in merely providing a surface look at the deaf and hearing-impaired world. The show wanted to be more challenging and thought-provoking.

For more than 90 episodes, the show explored a variety of topics. In episodes where Carlton School for the Deaf was threatened to be shut down, they explored whether putting hearing-impaired students in a separate school for the deaf is isolating and limiting, or protective and empowering. They’ve examined issues surrounding the cochlear implant and why many hearing-impaired people object to it and they looked at deafness as something to be “cured.” They also explored the communication problems that exist between the hearing and deaf communities. The show, in a much larger, yet deeper context, offers commentary on the way we, as human beings, go about self-expression and self-identification, whether that be via street art or spoken/signed communication.

Switched At Birth opened many eyes, including my own, to an unfamiliar life and culture, one that I, as a hearing person, will never fully comprehend. The show inspired me to learn the ASL alphabet, to further educate myself about deaf culture, and to take several (although not enough) trips to Gallaudet University, the only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, once I moved to Washington, D.C.

Switched at Birth continued to surprise me as it unfolded. I found this so-called teen drama to be intelligent, emotionally resonant, and even profound.

So I say “thank you” to Weiss and the entire cast and crew. Cliche as it may sound, I believe I am a better and more informed person for watching.

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