Switched At Birth : Uprising – Deaf Adult’s Commentary

Hello everyone,

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.

Deaf President Now

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

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11 comments on “Switched At Birth : Uprising – Deaf Adult’s Commentary

I’m loving that episode the whole time with one exception. It’s the banner that has left me in bad taste because to the public, they perceive us very angry Deaf militants. We are not like that at all. Every time I come across the online news and newspapers, the hearing people kept labeling us “ANGRY” Deaf people and/or “Angry Deaf Militants”, most of us have to defend our images that is not the case. That is a BIG problem. We need to show them we are not that angry nor militants. I’m disappointed in that wrong portrayal.
I agree that Deaf people should take action on Deaf Schools that are being on verge of being closed.
While you have a great memories about DPN at Gally. I also have a great memories about Blue Jeans protest at my oral school back in 1974. Heh…
Great blog, Amy!

Wonder will they re-run the show as DPN. Last night my hubby and I tried to find a correction channel of Direct TV under Centrylink cable. I could not find one .. Wonder anyone know if they have a re run video or tv channel can be re-run.. We missed that one show last night I am very disappointed and lack of response last night.

I was very upset for not able to find.. it was old show from few week ago. It was not correct. Hard time to figure out.


I was watching ( switch Birth) last night my thought and feeling that the equal right should brought out together in one voice, one nation, one spirit. not just for some deaf but every nations should stand together as one. and not to be afraid to speak up for what they believe not from their mind but from their heart.

For me, I see the difference between ‘take back Carlton’ and DPN having to do with $$$. Many deaf schools across the nation are under scrutiny for the same reason, finding way to cut costs from state budget. Some schools such as Illinois ISD, they have secured legislation in place where I was told that ISD will not close in our lifetime. Other schools are not that lucky or have not developed good legislative relations. DPN was all about having a deaf president at the university and has nothing to do with closure or $$.

One thing that had me cringing is damage to property, i.e., Travis throwing a rock to break the building’s glass so he could get in. I hope this does not give the message that it is okay to defile or damage a building, because it isn’t.

Because of the differences, I have mixed feelings about Carlton as versus DPN. Possibility because ISD have managed to WORK with legislators in securing the promise that ISD will not close. This is the kind of approach we want rather than protests.

It would be interesting to see how the Carlton situation manifests itself in the next episode. How will they resolve that issue?

The second protest at Gallaudet, I felt was out of control and was manipulated by the faculty as versus DPN, it was at first about fairness of the process (POC objecting to how the process was) and then it was turned into something else – disregarding POC’s original concern.

I do realize that not everyone has the same view as I do about that, but, that’s okay. It’s my view and doesn’t mean it’s the right one, it’s mine and mine alone. Others are entitled to theirs and their view should also be equally expressed.

While I do agree with you, Amy, that not many in the legislative area of government are necessarily aware of or well versed in deaf schools and/or deaf education. This is why it is the responsibility of the school administration to develop good relations with the legislators. They should be inviting legislators to the school so that they can see how the school is run.

The problem with these situation is deaf community ‘react’ at the very last minute and the administration of deaf schools failing to do their part in taking care of the funding problem early on. With ISD Indiana’s recent situation, more and more deaf people are paying attention to legislative bills across the nation by watching for and monitoring new bills that affects deaf/hh – and that is good.

Finally! I did watched the video from SAB. Very interesting about Jean-Ferdinand Berthier. I was not pay attention the signed on window door.

Until I read your blogs. It actually taught me to understand . I never been in Gally before and try to understand about DPN and how did start with Deaf President Now. Something I might not aware of that. .. It was so good to know the story was about.

Great comments. I think there is a bigger picture to think about for the world. Our world is not against any one culture. Many cultures are not understood. Is there a positive way of showing the importance of a culture being excepted for what they bring to our world. I see people making a difference by their actions and attitudes. The difference can be positive or negative depending on how the world see’s the action. Many of my friends have made a positive impact in my life and the world. How can we show positive strengths that show a culture that is strong, with many voices-people that work to make this world a better place for all. The gap needs to be bridged. It’s time. You can do it!

I understand that this isn’t the first show to have a deaf character but maybe the viewers of this program didn’t watch the others. It never hurts to have more as long as they’re shown in a positive light.

As for the “Deaf President Now”, I agree that there shouldn’t be any discrimination. However, that includes hearing people too. Whether or not someone could hear shouldn’t have factored in at all during the hiring process. That is unless they purposely excluded deaf candidates for the position.

I liked your commentary. Can you help me with finding the proper citation of the first ASL TV show in US? American Sign Language was first portrayed on the mainstream television show in 1967 by NBC’s Experiment on Television? I’m writing out the APA format which requires names of director and who produced it. the link was helpful, thanks.

I am including that in the background of my dissertation. I’ve been looking for the earliest example of ASL on TV along with earliest example of ASL vlog which I’ve already talked to you about.

Thanks for blogging!

[…] take place without subtitles, replicating the perspective of hearing people who do not sign. A highly praised episode in season two is entirely in ASL, showing a dramatized teenage version of the real-life […]

[…] take place without subtitles, replicating the perspective of hearing people who do not sign. A highly praised episode in season two is entirely in ASL, showing a dramatized teenage version of the real-life […]

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