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Switched at Birth - Deaf and Hearing Families Together


Updated August 03, 2011

Switched at Birth - Deaf and Hearing Families Together

Sean Berdy, "Emmett"

© Sean Berdy
Switched at Birth is an ABC Family drama starring two teenage girls (Katie LeClerc as Daphne, who is deaf, and Vanessa Marano as Bay, who is hearing) who were, as the title says, given to the wrong families when they were born. The show does not focus solely on deafness, but does weave in several aspects of deaf life.

Sign language, cochlear implants, deaf-hearing relationships, and deaf education are topics that have been worked in. The show even manages to cover the challenges of parenting deaf children, as the mother of the hearing girl realizes she needs to learn sign language to communicate with her deaf birth daughter. The show also includes the award-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin in a recurring role.

Marlee Matlin

Marlee Matlin plays the role of Melody, the deaf mother of a deaf teenage boy (Emmett, played by Sean Berdy). Her character is also good friends with Regina (Constance Marie), who is Daphne's mother. Learn more about Marlee Matlin, and about her other talent as a writer.

Sean Berdy

Although he has prior acting experience, the show has brought Sean Berdy to the attention of fans, primarily teenage girls. Berdy's performance, particularly when lip-locking, has electrified fans internationally. Read an interview with Berdy.

Meniere's Disease

Although her character does not have Meniere's Disease, actress Katie LeClerc does have it. Learn more about this disease and other causes of hearing loss.

Cochlear Implants

The topic of cochlear implants has been covered lightly, with the hearing parents expressing a desire for Daphne to have cochlear implants. Daphne herself does not want a cochlear implant, but in one episode she does think about it.

Sign Language

Daphne's character is very oral, but at the same time, she uses sign language and attends a school for the deaf. Katie LeClerc learned sign language in high school. In one episode, Regina tells Kathryn (Bay's mother, played by Lea Thompson) that she needs to meet Daphne halfway by learning sign language.


In one episode, Daphne gets an interpreter for a cooking class. Daphne is shown interacting with the interpreter and telling the interpreter how she will use his skills.

Deaf-Hearing Relationships

When Daphne begins to date Liam, a hearing boy, viewers are introduced to the challenges of a deaf-hearing relationship. Deaf and hearing people trying to date each other is a popular topic on the About.com Deafness forum. After Bay becomes involved with Emmett, the topic of deaf speech comes up when when she asks Emmett why he does not use his voice.

Deaf Education

The scenes of Daphne at the school for the deaf are brief, but do give viewers a glimpse of normal life at a deaf school. Deaf schools are a viable option for deaf and hard of hearing children.

Parenting Challenges

Parents of deaf and hard of hearing children may have to deal with the social challenges that their child faces. Viewers are treated to a glimpse of this when Daphne tells Bay how when Emmett was eight years old, he screamed at hearing children who were giving Daphne a hard time (thereby introducing the topic of bullying). Then he took Daphne to meet his mother, and this led to Daphne becoming a student at the school for the deaf.

Speech Therapy

After he begins getting more serious with Bay, Emmett tells his mother he would like to get speech therapy.

While the show has made stars of hard of hearing/deaf actors Katie LeClerc and Sean Berdy, there have been other deaf actors besides Marlee Matlin who have appeared on regular television and in the movies.

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