“Switched at Birth” returned on March 4 with the landmark episode, “Uprising,” that was told entirely in ASL (American Sign Language).
In this brilliantly executed installment, Daphne (Katie Leclerc) decides she doesn’t want to just give up and let the School Board close Carlton. She convinces fellow students, including Emmett (Sean Berdy) and Travis (Ryan Lane) to join her in a crusade to “take back Carlton,” which they plan to occupy, until their demands are met.
Daphne’s effort is inspired by the historic 1988 “Deaf President Now” protest at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. in which students, alumni and staff barricaded and occupied the campus until their demand for a deaf university president was heard and met.
In this case, deaf Carlton students fear being taken out of their school, in which they thrive academically and socially, to be forced to mainstream in hearing schools, where they will become outsiders. Carlton represents the one place where these kids don’t have to adapt to a hearing world and they are understandably devastated by the thought of losing it.
Take Back Carlton
Daphne organizes her fellow students to protest the Carlton closing. Emmett enlists Bay’s (Vanessa Marano) help making an artsy banner and she delivers, although she doesn't know what it's for.
Their plan is to take over the campus after the "Romeo and Juliet" play, but a security guard foils entry to the building. Bay figures out what’s going on and distracts everyone by pulling the fire alarm during the play. While everyone evacuates, the students lock themselves in and invite Bay and Noah to join them.
The kids are bolstered at first by a huge outpouring of support via various social media sites like Twitter. They also receive messages from people who plan to travel from other cities and states to join their crusade.
Then some of the kids start drinking and send mean-spirited and inappropriate tweets and photos of themselves partying for the cause. Daphne is upset, and tells them they’ll never be taken seriously this way. She asks for everyone to hand in their phones. Some of the kids don’t want to be told what to do, and they decide to leave.
Daphne makes a list of demands, including keeping Carlton open and deaf, keeping arts and sports programs, and the students not suffering any reprisal for their involvement in the protest. Bay is crushed she is being shut out in this list, as a hearing person, who currently attends Carlton.
Bay points out that she helped them, and risked getting into huge trouble by pulling the fire alarm. Plus, Bay made the dean’s list for the first time and she was finally feeling like she fit in at Carlton. She stands to lose a lot if the school closes, too.
Daphne and Bay get into a huge and rather heartbreaking fight. Bay feels like they are family and Daphne should stick up for her. Daphne tells Bay to stop making it personal and they reach a difficult impasse.
Katie Leclerc and Vanessa Marano are incredible in this scene. Daphne and Bay have been through so much. These girls are linked together by unimaginable circumstances, and have, overall, done an amazing job coping with the aftermath of the switch.
Carlton’s closing, on the surface, seems like another huge problem that is way outside of the scope of their control. However, they both have huge personal stakes in the situation--especially Daphne. Even so, they are also still teenagers and emotions run high. Sadly, they lash out at each other, when the real trouble lies in a much bigger problem.
Melody Reaches Out
The staff and parents outside elect Melody (Marlee Matlin) to go in and try to reason with the kids. She tells them the board has agreed to meet and revisit their decision to close the school. This is not a guarantee. They tell her they won’t back down and she ultimately tells them she’s proud of them. By the end of the episode, there are police sirens, and we know the kids may face some consequences for their actions.
This compelling episode draws us into the feelings and thoughts of students within the deaf community. It’s eye-opening in terms of the academic and social benefits students receive within a designated school for the deaf and how this kind of educational environment gives them a sense of freedom, independence and autonomy.
The question of whether states should maintain and operate separate schools for the deaf has been ongoing. In fact, “The New York Times” published a debate on the subject in 2011. The lead in mentions how states are under constant pressure to cut spending and set their sights on closing expensive deaf schools.
The specific question asks: Do states have a moral or legal obligation to provide separate schooling for deaf and hard-of-hearing children who could be "mainstreamed"?
There are a variety of responses to the question, including one from Lance T. Izumi, the senior director of education studies at Pacific Research Institute, who simply states: “Parents, not government, should decide what is the best educational setting for their deaf children.”
The NAD (National Association of the Deaf) wrote a response to the NYT debate that was never published. An excerpt from their compelling reply (posted on their website) states:
“Legally, morally, and practically, state schools are the answer for thousands of deaf children across the country. Closing such state schools for financial or ideological reasons will result in a repeat of history with another generation of deaf students doomed to failure. In the 1964 Babbidge Report, Congress deemed oral education of the deaf a “dismal failure.” Nearly a half-century later, the debate dangerously suggests a return to this failed approach.
In many parts of the world including the United States, children learn to be multilingual. Yet, with deaf children, language instruction has often been viewed as an either/or approach – auditory learning of English or visual learning of American Sign Language (ASL). Yet, proponents of ASL, including the NAD, have long pushed for giving deaf children the chance to learn both ASL and English. There is no reason to deny children every means of learning available to them. Even the United Nations recognizes this as a basic human right as it now encourages all countries to adopt this educational and linguistic concept in the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Get the debate back on track. Keep state schools for the deaf open. Focus instead on how to ensure that deaf children gain, from birth, full access to language acquisition, including ASL, and thereby become multilingual productive citizens.”
The NAD was also thrilled with ABC Family’s decision to air this groundbreaking “Switched at Birth” episode. The following is a statement via the NAD website:
"This is a phenomenal and groundbreaking first in television history," praises Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the NAD. "The NAD expresses its gratitude and appreciation to ABC Family for being the first to showcase an all ASL scripted episode on mainstream television."
“Switched at Birth” creator Lizzy Weiss talked about doing the all ASL episode during an interview with the NAD. She said, "I think everyone is really excited and curious to see how we do this. It definitely presented its challenges but I hope we show people on other networks that it can be done."
Overall, this remarkable and important episode is a series standout as the students continue a valiant fight for their rights. It will proudly go down in history as the first of its kind, and will hopefully inspire other shows and networks to incorporate deaf culture and/or people with other types of disabilities into their storylines.
There is also an important lesson here: We are all different, as human beings, and it’s those differences that make us who we are. Therefore, we can learn from each other and grow on many levels. Plus, we all deserve to be heard and we should all have the grace to listen.
Lizzy Weiss and the amazing “Switched at Birth” cast told us a story in a way that allowed us to see a difficult problem from a totally different perspective. Their collective vision and dedication should be applauded, and it appears the fans have done just that. Messages of support and overall positive response have been streaming into SAB’s social media pages like Facebook and Twitter.
Other Battles Loom Ahead
Next week’s episode marks the SAB spring finale. While we anxiously wait to see if the kids win their fight and save Carlton, some other huge battles loom ahead.
According to preview clips, it looks like Bay and Daphne clash over Noah and Angelo (Gilles Marini) returns. In one scene, he’s holding a baby and in another, he deals with a drunk Regina, who shows up at his place late at night and tries to seduce him. Then she makes light of her drinking, but Angelo appears to see through her.
Episode photos posted on the SAB Facebook page show Angelo and Bay visiting Lana in the hospital. So, it looks like Angelo is also going to greet another daughter …
“Switched at Birth” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC Family. Click here for a Flint area channel guide.