History in the Making

Monday night the writers and executives at ABCFamily made history. They presented an episode of their hit show Switched At Birth entirely in American Sign Language (ASL).

I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you that may not have watched it yet, but the previous board decided (due to budget cuts) to close down Carlton School for the Deaf, and sell the property. The deaf students blame the pilot program hearing students for this decision from the board. This episode, though centered around saving Carlton becomes about much, much more than that.

In 1988 students at Gallaudet University staged a protest. They wanted a deaf president. Below is from their website…..

In 1988, Gallaudet University was the site of a student-led protest that today is called Deaf President Now, or simply, DPN. But DPN was more than a protest. It also was a unique coming together of Gallaudet students, faculty and staff with the national deaf community—all bound by clear and defined goals.
The DPN supporters believed that the time had come for a deaf person to run the world’s only university for deaf and hard of hearing students. When this didn’t happen, the result was a protest whose effects are still reverberating around the world today.
DPN was remarkable not only for its clear sense of purpose, cohesiveness, speed, and depth of feeling, but also for its ability to remove the barriers and erase the lines that previously separated the deaf and hearing communities. In addition, it raised the nation’s consciousness of the rights and abilities of deaf and hard of hearing people.


This is message was given to us by Carlton guidance counselor Melody played by the wonderful Marlee Matlin. The students took over the school, and didn’t give it up until they got what they wanted. Matlin’s character in the show, we are told was involved in the Gallaudet protest, tells the students as much.

Throughout the course of this current season, Matlin’s character has been teaching a class on Deaf Culture, and the trials that are still being faced today. Matlin and the cast have a way of conveying such emotion in their words, yes their words. Sometimes their performances, and stories fill me with such emotion that it hurts. You realize in these weekly lessons from Melody, that there is so much taken for granted, and you gain such respect for, and knowledge of this culture.

There was so much more to this episode though than just saving the school. There was no sound. None…except for at some key points in the story there was subtle background music, but nothing beyond that. It forced you to pay attention. Whether you sign or not, you were either watching the words on screen, or watching their hands. I did a little of both. If I saw a sign I was fuzzy on I’d read the words, otherwise I was watching hands and reading lips. Not only did you have to pay close attention, you wanted to! My dad, who has never watched this show, watched it with us that night and was hooked.

You never realize how loud total silence can be. All I could hear was the ticking of the clock on my wall, and it drove me absolutely nuts, but on that same token I can’t imagine not hearing it. I’ve learned so much over the course of the last few seasons of this show, but never expected what we were given on Monday night. It was more than saving the school, it was about saving their freedom. Their freedom to be deaf, the freedom to hold tight to their culture, their friends. Being able to go to school and fit in, being able to learn in a friendly environment. Isn’t that what we all want? I can’t imagine if the deaf school near us closed. I’m hearing, but I would be one of the first ones to stand up and fight. Michigan School for the Deaf has such an impact on our community, and if this story were to translate to real life around here the community would fight back.

I urge you to take an ASL/Deaf Culture class….it will change your life like it did mine. I do not regret learning ASL. It is a language, a skill, and a history that I will take with me for the rest of my life. There is something so fulfilling and beautiful about having a conversation with someone in ASL. Do your research! There is such an important history linked to the Deaf Culture, and some of it will truly change your views, I know I did! To end, I would like to share with you one of my all time favorite music videos…From the Deaf Performing Artist’s Network (D-PAN) here is, Waiting on the World To Change  Enjoy!