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'Switched at Birth' airs groundbreaking episode tonight

March 04, 2013|By Deborah Vankin
  • A scene from ABC's "Switched at Birth."
A scene from ABC's "Switched at Birth." ( ABC Family )

ABC Family will make history tonight, airing an episode of “Switched at Birth” completely in American Sign Language, with subtitles for hearing viewers. It's something the network says has never been done before on scripted, mainstream television.

The show is about two Kansas City teens who were accidentally switched in the hospital as newborns and raised by one another’s family. One of them, Daphne (Katie Leclerc), is deaf, and the show is comprised of deaf, hearing and hard-of-hearing actors. Scenes alternate between audible dialogue and silent signing.    

TIMELINE: A history of captions and sign language on screen

In tonight’s episode, "Uprising," the students at Carlton School for the Deaf stage a protest to prevent their school from closing and themselves from being dispersed to hearing schools. The plot was inspired by, and marks the 25th anniversary of, the real-life student protests, known as "Deaf President Now," that took place at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in March 1988.

"It's a story about kids who are different fighting back. It's not just relating to deaf kids," says show creator Lizzy Weiss. "It should be a very universal story."


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