Yesterday, I wrote my first piece for The Mary Sue, an awesomely nerdy and feminist website. It’s on the show Switched at Birth, a “Peabody-award-winning family drama on ABC Family.” I’ve been interested in the show for awhile, as it addresses disability issues in a more centered and interesting way than anything else of which I’m aware on television. They’ve focused on Deaf issues (one of the two lead characters is Deaf and is played by an actress who is hard-of-hearing). It still feels revolutionary to me to watch all the scenes in ASL.
The show creators knew that Down syndrome, prenatal testing, and abortion were major issues within the disability community and American society overall. What they couldn’t have predicted is that, thanks to a proposed ban on abortion because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome in Ohio, their new plotline would tie into front page news.
I don’t know what choice Lily will make, but the most recent episode used the pregnancy to dive into questions about life with disability, cross-disability identity (Daphne thinking about connections between her identity as a Deaf woman and Down syndrome), abortion, and the complications of any unplanned pregnancy. Daphne nearly broke up with her boyfriend when he made ableist remarks (he’s trying to make amends). Lily, the expectant mother, spoke about her deep connection to her brother (who has an unspecified genetic condition) and the ways that life with a disability can be different than expected, but still rich and full of joy.
Once I heard about the plot, I wanted to know how the show creators prepared to execute it and whether any people with Down syndrome would be directly involved. I feared that, as too often happens on mainstream TV, the show would be about a disability without someone with that disability. I should have known better.
I corresponded about the plotline with show creator and executive producer Lizzy Weiss. Here’s our conversation:
Click through, please, and read and share the interview.
I’ve seen next Monday’s episode. It made me weep (because any diagnosis story throws me emotionally right back into that hour after my son was born). It’s solid. I do, of course, have comments and critiques, because I’m a critic, but you’ll have to wait until next Monday!