‘Switched at Birth’ Airs Historic Episode

Broadcast All in American Sign Language

Switched at Birth

Even people who don’t normally watch ABC Family’s terrific teen drama Switched at Birth might want to consider tuning in tonight, March 4, at 8pm ET for the new second-season episode called “Uprising,” which will make broadcast television history.

A series with a large number of deaf and hearing impaired cast members and characters, Switched at Birth always features substantial dialogue communicated through sign language, especially American Sign Language, or ASL. What makes “Uprising” particularly notable is its reliance on ASL alone to relate the events that occur when high school students at the Carlton School for the Deaf, where the two main characters Daphne (Katie Leclerc, Fashion House) and Bay (Vanessa Marano, Without a Trace) are enrolled, stage a protest to prevent the closure of their school.

The unique episode — a first for “mainstream television,” according to ABC Family — takes inspiration from the actual Deaf President Now student protest at Gallaudet University in March 1988. The Washington, D.C. academic institution was established in 1864 to educate deaf and hearing impaired students but had six hearing presidents until 1988. Students revolted when they learned the seventh selected president was hearing also, and their demonstration directly led to the appointment of the school’s first deaf president, I. King Jordan, the very same month.

The issues and players during Switched at Birth‘s “Uprising” differ on various levels, but the message is similar: deaf and hearing impaired individuals want to live and learn in an environment where they have a say in their fate and are not condescended to, mistreated, or made to feel abnormal or inferior, intentionally or not. The episode takes several turns I didn’t expect and will engage both regular and new viewers, especially as it draws to a close. Good to see that one of basic cable’s best shows is still going strong.

Switched at Birth currently airs Mondays on ABC Family at 8pm ET

Constance Marie, Katie Leclerc, Vanessa Marano, and Lea Thompson/Switched at Birth photo courtesy of ABC Family

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