Emmett, in this scene, is arrested. He’s working on his bike and can’t hear anything, because he’s Deaf. The police shout commands, but he just stands there, and then they tackle him. This is a dynamic that I cover in my journalism, but that I hadn’t seen dramatized before. The show depicts it twice, once at the end of an episode without sound, and once with an episode.
I interviewed Marlee Matlin, a supporting character on the show, about her experience with Switched at Birth and her career and activism.
Let’s start with Switched at Birth. When I first heard the premise, it sounded like a pretty light show — but it’s changed the conversationabout disability on TV. What, in your mind, is its legacy?
I knew from the start that there was something unique and groundbreaking about the show. [Creator] Lizzy Weiss invited me to watch the pilot, and when I saw not only one deaf actor, but a number of them all signing, subtitled, and incorporated in a manner that I had only dreamed should happen in TV, I knew she had done her homework. Switched at Birth proved that deaf actors can be part of any TV show and there should never be a worry that somehow it wouldn’t work. Switched at Birth was definitely a game changer for the community of deaf actors in Hollywood, as well as viewers eager for diversity.
Can you tell me a story about about being on set when the show felt different to you?
It felt different the first day I walked on the set and was asked to do my lines without having to worry about having to speak, without having to think about the actor who would be translating my signs into responses that made it clear what I was saying or who was interpreting for me. My hands, my language, did all the talking, and captions took care of the rest. That was the moment I realized that I was finally free to act with the means that I was most comfortable with as an actor who happens to be deaf and who communicates in American Sign Language. Acting finally was available to me just like everyone else.