Switched at Birth Season 2 Interview: Katie Leclerc Discusses the All-ASL Episode

Switched at Birth Season 2 Episode 9 Uprising (11)

A special, ground-breaking episode of Switched at Birth is premiering very soon. The episode, based on the real-life 1988 protests that took place at Gallaudet University, a liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing, will use solely American Sign Language. TV Equals was happy to learn more about this episode from Katie Leclerc during a conference call. Read below to see what you can expect from this very intriguing episode.

The Gallaudet University protests

Leclerc explained more about the real-life event, which took place 25 years ago this month.

“In 1988 the students who had been attending Gallaudet University I believe for just under 100 years had finally gotten fed up with always having a hearing person be in control of the school, the dean, the administrators, the board,” said Leclerc. “All of the decisions were made by hearing people and the deaf students at the time rallied together and decided to protest the oppression, as they felt, and shut down the school. They didn’t go to classes. They gated up the fences so of like occupy Gallaudet in ’88, and they actually achieved what they were hoping for. They got a deaf president and everybody went back to classes and everything was okay.”

Leclerc’s opinion on Gallaudet

“I learned sign language when I was 17 in high school as a foreign language elective, and they told us the story of Gallaudet when I was in that class, and I felt inspired,” said Leclerc when speaking more about the event. “I felt like here’s a group of kids who feel a certain way collectively and took it upon themselves to make their voices be heard in a time when no one was even listening to deaf people. I think that it goes to show you that if you really put your mind to it you can achieve extraordinary things in the face of oppression, and these students definitely set out to do that.”

What to expect from the All-American Sign Language episode

It’s quite safe to say that nothing like this has been shown on television before. Leclerc gave some insight as to what fans can expect from the groundbreaking episode.

“I think from the start of Switched at Birth people have always responded incredibly well to our all-silent scenes where you really get a perspective in to what a deaf person’s daily life might be like. I think that it’s an
interesting concept that hasn’t really been seen on television before so Switched at Birth definitely paves the way,” she said. “I’m very proud of ABC Family and Switched at Birth for even taking that a step farther. The episode is going to be structured in the sense that there’s a deaf person in every scene, so every scene that the audience is watching from their living room is told from the perspective of that deaf person in the scene. I think the first scene has some dialog and the very last scene might have a bit of dialog, but the majority of the entire episode is silent and based in American Sign Language.”

The buzz behind the episode

With such an episode about to premiere on television, Leclerc talked about what the fan reaction has been like.

“It’s incredibly exciting. It’s such a huge risk that ABC Family is taking. I absolutely applaud them. It’s something that I think our audience is really excited about,” she said. “People on Twitter have definitely been all abuzz about it, and I know that the cast members are very proud of it. We worked tirelessly on this next episode, the March 4th episode. I mean the days were so long. We just stayed until we got the best product that we could, and my hat is off to the production of Switched at Birth and the network ABC Family for really putting in due diligence and a lot of hard work.”

Switched at Birth as a benchmark

It can be argued that Switched at Birth could be used as an example to future shows about how to show just how unique and diverse our world is. Leclerc appears to agree.

“I think that Switched at Birth is a benchmark for putting an example out there that our world is very diverse. Our world is not black and white and not everyone is 90 pounds and walks around in fabulous clothing all the time,” she said. “I think that our show shows diversity in a multitude of ways, economically, racially, just what a family looks like, and how diverse that can be compared to each other’s families.”

“I think that Switched at Birth has gone a long way in paving the road and showing that not every character on a television show has to be picture perfect,” she continued. “I think that we have seen deaf characters in the past sort of in a one-off kind of co-star, guest star sort of way, and Switched takes that even farther. You really get to have a relationship with these deaf characters just as much as you would a hearing character.”

The most challenging part of filming the ASL episode

Leclerc said the toughest part of filming this particular episode was the amount of interpreters there were on set, coupled with language barriers.

“I would have to say it’s kind of interesting because we always have an interpreter on set for every deaf character that’s in the episode. Each individual person has their own individual interpreter, and when you have a scene with nine deaf characters all of a sudden there are nine extra bodies that weren’t always there,” she said.

“I think that American Sign Language is fascinating because the language itself if so open to interpretation. There are so many different ways to say the same thing but with different emphasis and different words and different grammatical structures and all of them are correct,” she added. “To me it was fascinating to look out and see nine versions of the same sentence in varying degrees of differences…I think it posed an extra challenge on shooting that episode just in the fact that there were more bodies. There were more people to go through and had to go through multiple languages before the message was absolutely received between the director and the actor…There’s a lot of moving parts literally, hands are flying everywhere. I think it was extra challenging with the time and with the extra people, but I think that the end product shows that we had extra bodies and shows that we had extra effort put in to that episode because it really sparkles, it really shines.”

Other topics Switched at Birth could discuss

Leclerc said one topic she’d like the show to revisit is the debate over cochlear implants.

“I think in the pilot episode there’s a very, very, very, very opinionated argument whether or not deaf and hard of hearing children should receive cochlear implants. That was sort of touched upon in the pilot,” she said. “The Kennishs’ were very adamant about giving Daphne as many opportunities that they could; that included giving Daphne a cochlear implant. Regina [Constance Marie] and Daphne and Melody’s [Marlee Matlin] perspective was different because the cochlear implant is something that certain deaf people see as a limiter in continuing the deaf community, and they see it sort of as a problem within the deaf community. I think Switched at Birth started to touch on that. I’d love to see how they would expand that. I think that we approach the deaf community with tact and respect, and I think it’s such a fascinating argument that I would love to see them tackle both sides.”

The special episode premieres March 4 at 8/7c on ABC Family.