Tonight’s episode of Switched at Birth entitled, “Uprising” is the first episode of television to air entirely in American Sign Language and it was truly riveting.
To borrow from a friend, this week’s episode is “brilliant. Inspiring. Eye-opening. The end.” And that’s really what Switched at Birth has been from the pilot.
I’m a strong advocate of this show. I plead. I beg. I bargain. Anything I can to get people to give this show a try, guaranteeing them that it will open their eyes to a whole other side of life, one that has never crossed their minds. Minus those friends who cannot get past the presence of April Nardini (Gilmore Girls fans will forever understand why), I’ve yet to find someone who dislikes it after giving it a wholehearted chance.
However, tonight I felt the show in a whole new way – deeper and more painfully in ways that made me want to stand up and cheer, but also cower in shame that I know less than ten signs. (I promptly began to Google info about learning ASL during the commercial breaks.) Tonight viewers were given the chance to walk in the shoes of the deaf characters. This meant keeping up with quickly paced captions as conversations bounced between characters, dealing with the confusion that came with no sound when things were going awry, and understanding the struggle of this disability.
Last week, the kids at Carlton learned their school would be shutting down and they would be forced to attend hearing schools. This was especially terrifying since many of them had failed to acclimate to hearing schools or been kicked out of them because of their disability. They were afraid of becoming less heard than they already were, sure that transferring to a hearing school would just mean their constant belittling would continue. Not to mention they would be forced to leave the people who understood them and their struggles, the students who had been their closest allies growing up. Instead of backing down, the students rallied together and planned a sit-in, inspired by a real-life, historic one that took place at Gallaudet University and redefined education for the deaf community.
Viewers will have to wait until next week to see how things pan out for the students of Carlton. So far they spread word via social media, attracting attention from other deaf individuals and students, and dealt with the implications of social media going awry and the true cause of their fight taking a temporary back seat. It was an interesting commentary on how teenagers can make a difference by fighting the good fight if they do it in the right way and the right voice while working together. And thanks to Daphne, they quickly realized that turning their endeavor into an excuse to party and drink would do nothing except make it a national, possible worldwide, joke. They still aren’t sure of what their demands are, but all they want is a place in the world that is safe, comfortable, and theirs, which isn’t asking much in a predominantly hearing world that ignores them, criticizes them, and blatantly disregards their disability.
While viewers only walked in their shoes for an hour, it was a miniscule taste of what their lives are like on a daily basis. It was difficult to follow group interactions, read lips when there were no subtitles, or even remember to keep looking at the screen to read subtitles. Looking away for a second meant missing entire conversations that were pivotal to the story. Not a single line was wasted in tonight’s episode. And even if you did struggle to keep up, the story was still there on the screen. The weight of their trials were present in every step or facial expression, reminding you that words aren’t necessary in life. Life is filled with expression that doesn’t require sound, and I can’t help but wonder how those who can hear miss out on that.
I, for one, know I won’t soon forget this episode. In fact, I’ll be raving about it anyone who watches – and those that don’t. It is one thing to think about how difficult losing an entire sense would be, but Switched at Birth reiterates it in ways that I’ve never even bothered to think about. Most importantly, it does it without standing on a soapbox with a megaphone. It’s subtle. Tender. Filled with heart. Aching to be understood. Real. Brilliant. Inspiring. Eye-opening. The end.