ABC’s “Switched at Birth,” is a show that many of us know as two girls who discover that they were switched at birth (hence the show’s title). Actress Katie Leclerc, portrays Daphne one of the show’s main characters who is deaf. Consequently, throughout the show, viewers are given insight on deaf culture.
Here are a few of the many interesting topics that “Switched at Birth” has helped shed light on regarding deaf culture:
1. Sign Language is NOT universal
On “Switched at Birth,” there’s an episode where Daphne encounters a deaf person who communicates in Mexican Sign Language. Just as every country has its own spoken language, each country has its own unique sign language.
Some students at Mesa Community College say when it comes to communicating with deaf individuals, they aren’t exactly sure how to do that. Although grabbing a pen and paper would be most people’s gut reaction, there is a little more to it than just relying on the written word: a habit that hearing individuals are so accustomed to. Most people are not aware that the deaf culture exists as a culture.
For most students, the definition of a culture includes language, customs, beliefs and traditions being passed from one generation to the next although language seems to be the top criterion mentioned. Mesa offers American Sign Language (and Alice Marino) said the biggest misconception students have going into her class is that ASL is an easy course. Unfortunately, she said, sometimes those students are the ones that struggle the most.
Marino said she was guilty of having this same misconception but quickly adjusted and learned there was more to ASL and hopes that students can come away from her course with the general awareness of language and culture. Just as learning any foreign language requires work, so does sign language.
Michelle Barto, an ASL instructor at MCC who is deaf, agrees that generally there are students taking sign language over German or Japanese because they believe it will be easier. “Students believe it’s an easy class because they think it’s English underhand but it’s not,” she said. “People are either visual or auditory learners.”
Richard Balsam stands at the head of a table directing fellow members of the Hebrew Association for the Deaf as they play a game, stacking chips and holding up cards after a Thanksgiving meal at their building in Northeast Philadelphia.
The room is filled with about 40 people, mostly middle age and senior adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some of them have been involved with the group for decades.
But the younger generation hasn’t followed suit. Over the last 20 years, more deaf people have undergone surgery to put in cochlear implants, small electronic hearing devices that are particularly effective when introduced at a young age. The implants, along with video-calling technologies such as Skype and FaceTime, which allow people who use sign language or read lips to remotely communicate with one another, have removed some of the challenges that in effect helped create a distinct deaf culture.