This is not a review.
It is my commentary about Monday, March 4th’s Switched at Birth : Uprising (click here to view).
Several days before showing of this episode, ABC Family did the massive public relations blitz to let us know that this show will be a pivotal and landmark episode presenting a television first: an installment that is enacted nearly entirely in American Sign Language (ASL). This episode does not have any voice-overs and it is entirely subtitled for people who are not fluent in American Sign Language.
It is not exactly an historical first, since American Sign Language was first portrayed on the mainstream television show in 1967 by NBC’s Experiment on Television. National Theater of the Deaf was featured. For more information, you can check this link here.
There were several television shows which include characters who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing communicating in sign language but there were always a voice-over or being ‘interpreted’ by a hearing person.
Then in 2008, there was a well-known commercial produced by Pepsi/Enable called “The Bob’s House”, based on a Deaf folklore story in American Sign Language with subtitles (no voice-over) broadcasted during the Super Bowl event.
NBC’s Experiment on Television and Pepsi/Enable’s “The Bob’s House” stirred much controversy, and the suppression of displaying ASL on television was futile.
Tomorrow, March 6, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Deaf President Now (DPN). DPN was a huge protest at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. The students, faculty, and staff at the university as well as the national deaf community were united and fought together for one clear goal…to finally have a deaf person run the world’s only deaf university–Gallaudet.
This ASL episode of Switched at Birth—titled, fittingly, called “Uprising,” brought fresh attention to the Deaf President Now movement AND 2006’s protest at Gallaudet, recalling a time of deaf activism that continues to inspire a new generation of students today.
I, myself personally participated in 1988’s Deaf President Now movement, and this experience was a turning point of my life. This forced me to re-examine my own personal identity, and developed self-determinism as a Deaf person. I became an activist. Then there was another protest in 2006 at Gallaudet, I participated this protest through blogging and vlogging as an alumni.
Last night, I watched the Switched at Birth, and it had brought back a lot of memories, stirred up emotions and I recognized a lot of symbolism presented throughout in a 43-minute long episode.
I would like to start with the first symbolism here.
Does this look similar? I believe so.
Except for the Take Back Carlton’s banner depicted a militant-like figure which is sharply contrasts with the Deaf President Now banner.
Whenever the Deaf community decides to stand up for their rights, after several attempts of making ourselves heard, we protested by using civil-disobedience techniques. We were quickly judged by many people as militants or angry Deaf people. The society expected that the Deaf people are submissive and accept to whatever decision done by the majority without any of our input and/or participation in the process.
Keep that in mind that these two protests at Gallaudet University were NOT the only protests led by the Deaf community. We protested for saving our Deaf Schools from closure, demanding accessibility, and fighting against discrimination and audism.
Deaf activism started with one French Deaf person, Jean-Ferdinand Berthier.
This image above is perfect. Very fitting.
Many of us did not know who is Jean-Ferdinand Berthier. I learned about him recently. Berthier was a deaf educator, an intellectual and political organizer in nineteenth-century France, and is one of the earliest champions of deaf identity and culture.
I bet that many Deaf people did not know about him, even our current Deaf and Hard of Hearing children all over the United States.
Also, not many people know about Deaf President Now movement. DPN was a distant memory. It was not in high school textbooks available for students. Many deaf and hard of hearing students are mainstreamed and they have slightest no idea about the Deaf President Now movement, even about the Deaf Community’s ongoing fight against discrimination, prejudice and oppression, along with our victories.
Additionally, people did not realize there are Deaf schools. Politicians from each state has not yet visited Deaf schools. They make decisions everyday about their budget and Deaf schools are usually on the chopping block. Deaf adults often jumped in and fought hard to keep our schools open. It happened too many times.
Look at Melody Bledsoe (Marlee Matlin) who was ‘silenced’ by the school board by offering her a job help Carlton Deaf students transitioning to their local schools. Melody knew she will have difficulty finding a job as a guidance counselor in any regular high school program. Melody is exactly like me, because I am a Deaf adult and I have responsibilities. I was silenced when I started blogging/vlogging about Deaf Education, communication methods and fighting against Audism.
I realized about one thing…
We need to educate our Deaf and Hard of Hearing students about their self-determination and our history of activism. Their fight is effective in many ways.
I tweeted one comment after the show and it was re-tweeted few times. Apparently, my tweet had hit the chord among the Deaf Community.
It is time to invest in our Deaf youth and we teach them about history of activism, promote self-determination and advocacy skills. We will guide them. We will always share our Deaf history. We will NEVER FORGET how hard we fought for equality, human rights and preservation of American Sign Language.
Amy Cohen Efron