I am learning American Sign Language (ASL) thanks to Lizzy Weiss, the creator of ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” about two teenage girls who discover they aren’t who they thought they were — a premise further enriched by the fact that one of the girls is deaf.
According to Weiss, she didn’t conceive the show to feature a deaf character. Ever since taking a deaf theater class in college, however, she had kept the community in mind. “Switched” proved a perfect platform, allowing Weiss to showcase ASL, which she describes as a beautiful language with very intuitive and poetic signs — like a dance of the hands.
Rather than casting hearing actors to play deaf, Weiss launched a national casting call to find Katie Leclerc, who was diagnosed with an inner-ear condition called Meniere’s disease when she was 20. “Switched” also features Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and 18-year-old Sean Berdy, both fully deaf.
“It’s very rare to find a hearing actor who is as fluent (in ASL). We just really wanted the authenticity for that part,” says Weiss. “All teenagers think they are different in some way, no matter how mainstream they may seem to other people, and I think that’s what makes (the character’s deafness) relatable.”