Representation Of The Theme Of Deafness In The Media

Over the years, the advancements in media have been noticeably changing to accommodate to new lifestyles, disabilities, genders, etc. Disability has become normalized and a staple in different forms of public platforms that include television series, movies, advertisements for clothing companies, etc. However, despite there being a positive increase in promoting the benefits of disability there are also negative depictions of characters with disabilities.

The television series that I chose to discuss was ABC family, now a Freeform show called “Switched at Birth.” Switched at Birth’s main disability that is depicted throughout the show is Deafness. The show starts off with two teenage girls that just as the title says, were accidentally switched at birth. The parents of both girls do not find out that their kids were switched till they were in high school. The families meet one another, and they start to become closer. They end up moving in together and basically start to swap daughters to spend time with them and get to actually know their own child. The main character Daphne is fully deaf and knows how to sign. Despite her being fully deaf, she can talk clearly and dreams of becoming a deaf doctor. The key indications of her being deaf were her double hearing aids, altered speech/pronunciations of phrases and words, and her sign language. In addition to those factors, the show also has visual cues to the audience that Daphne cannot hear any sounds by showing her almost getting hit by a car, etc. She is a good example of an advanced for the perfect deaf kid by being able to talk, read lips, sign and fully understand everything going on around her.

The disability theme of deafness and hearing impairments in this show really resonated with me on a personal level. This disability is something I can relate to on a personal level actually. I was born with unilateral hearing loss and although I am not fully deaf, my hearing impairment definitely affects my life. On big challenge I struggled with was that I had to wear a hearing aid and felt embarrassed/ got made of it for wearing it. In the show Daphne also gets made fun of for wearing her hearing aids. Since she is already fully deaf, people assumed that they were unnecessary. However, her hearing aids end up helping tremendously by heightening vibrations whether it be from music, sounds, etc. In my personal opinion I believe that the tv series perfectly portrays the deaf community in a positive light. They show all different types of hearing impairments and full deafness, interrelationships between the deaf and hearing communities, etc.

For many people we face everyday barriers that inhibit our capability to complete everyday tasks. However, for individuals with disabilities, these barriers are more heightened. For Daphne specifically, her constraints or barriers are: if a person does not enunciate enough she cannot understand what their lips are saying, Not being able to hear cars coming( she is very active and runs around neighborhoods all the time), difficulty understanding people with accents, having to only facetime instead of being able to regular call, etc. Although these are definitely challenging for Daphne, she does not let one single barrier stop her and always finds a way to overcome them.

The two models of disability that were reflected the most in the TV series were the social model and the affirmative model. The social model is when the individual does not believe they have a disability but rather blame society for not abying by their needs. Instead of looking for a cure they seek out changes in society. Daphne does this when she has the interview for the surgical internship. She blames the doctor running the program for not being accommodating to her needs and using that as an excuse to not hire her. The affirmative model is when an individual view their disability as a positive impact to their life rather than a setback. Daphne views Deafness as a cultural identity rather than a detriment.

One of the major stereotypes depicted in the show is the stereotype of believing that yelling at a deaf person will make them hear you/understand you. However, yelling at someone who is deaf not only annoys the person who is attempting to do so, it is also frustrating to the person being yelled at and not being able to do anything about it. In addition, another a big stereotype that sticks out to me is the belief that all deaf individuals cannot speak or are mute. The tv series clearly shows that Daphne is able to have to have a normal conversation with her peers and half the time they don’t notice until they see her hearing aids. One of her other friends on the show are also able to talk but are less clear with their pronunciation. Lastly, the stereotype that stuck out the most was that deaf people cannot play music because they cannot hear what they are playing. However, Daphne’s best friend Emmet breaks this stereotype. In fact, he gets signed for a few gigs with a band since he is so talented at playing the drums. Although he may not be able to hear it, he can feel the vibrations in his bones.

Daphne along with her friends attend Carlton School for the Deaf. Therefore, they do not need special accommodations in an academic setting. However, just like any tv show there is always drama. Daphne ends up with a desk job at a walk-in medic clinic as a part of the doctor working at the clinic is extremely rude and tough on her which leads to her changing her mind about wanted to apply to pre-med programs for college. At the end of the season Daphne overcomes her doubts and tries to apply to an orthopedic surgeon internship for the summer. When she goes the interview, she brings in her interpreter to make sure she does not miss anything that the doctor says. The doctor running this program is shocked when he finds out Daphne is deaf and says “It needs to go to someone who can actually learn from it. Surgeons wear masks and you can’t hear. How can you know what’s going on if you can’t read my lips or hear my voice?” Daphne then responds to him by saying “There are technological advances like clear masks, I’m oral I don’t need ASL.” The doctor continues to be extremely discriminatory to Daphne and eventually says “This is ridiculous you can’t be deaf and be a surgeon obviously. You need to tell her she needs to get this dangerous fantasy out of her head and try something she is well suited for like radiology. Pretty hard to screw that up.” This is an example of Title 1 of ADA: Employment. Title 1 states that “A reasonable accommodation is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities without causing the employer “undue hardship”. Daphne simply wanted the same opportunity that all the other applicants got and requested that the hospital make changes in which they should wear clear masks or could have a translator in the OR. However, the doctor running the program basically told her to get lost. The show does not show any examples of IDEA in place simply because Daphne and her friends attend a private school for the deaf.

Although, we are making great strides as a society to be inclusive with people with disabilities, we need to be considerate and make sure we are not wrongfully depicting disabilities people may have. Stereotyping in the media can be a contentious issue because in one regard it shows what not to do or act towards an individual with a disability, however, it can also show really offensive subject matter which can leave to individuals with the same disability that are watching offended and upset. I truly believe the deaf community takes pride in their disability and looks at it like a cultural identity rather than a tragedy. Daphne Vasquez does not let being deaf stop her in any way and strives to be the best in everything she sets her mind to. 

09 March 2021
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