UPDATE. You can write to the below folks and ask them about contracting with describers for shows that do not have an AD track, such as Switched at Birth.
I first heard of the show Switched at birth about a year ago from my best friend Robert Kingett, manager of this blog. At the time I was starting to know a totally deaf woman in the building I live in. Previously I’d never had any deaf friends. I was really wanting to build a connection. Robert went to the florida school for the deaf and the blind, and so learned a good amount of sign language and has many deaf friends. So I sent him a lot of e-mails about like every interaction this girl and I had and how could I connect with her better. I was probably bugging the hell out of him because he had a lot of journalist stuff to do.
So eventually he just kept saying well the show switched at birth would have this example or that example of the stuff you’re wondering about. We don’t have ABC Family on our limited TV channels at Albany and I have a very small number of shows I like to watch. So I never heard of it. He told me that it was a teen drama focused on two girls who were switched at birth. How their reunification affects them and their family and the twist is that one of the girls is deaf. He said that the show had deaf actors and that there was as much communication in ASL as in English if not more. I thought this was awesome because I’d honestly not even heard of a deaf character on tv in the first place. So many people don’t even know what sign language is and I thought it was amazing what this show was doing for people of all disabilities. Showing that people with disabilities have full lives, don’t obsess over their disability and meet challenges as they go along. And that it’s not as hard as one would think to connect with someone who’s disabled and form a true friendship.
So finally I was like ok I’ll watch this show! So I went on Netflix and sat back ready for some heartwarming and thought provoking teen drama. As the first episode introduced Daphne and Bae there was a lot of dialogue. And so I could follow that story. Daphne’s mother was there and signed while she spoke which was nice. Shortly though it became clear that there were a lot of scenes shot completely in ASL. So there was just silence in those moments. Though I love audio description, and have never been so energized about advocating for it since meeting Robert, I’ve usually done pretty good with shows that have a lot of dialogue. But this was so different as part of a conversation could be going on in ASL and then someone talking in English so it was extremely difficult.
I was very disappointed as I then did some online research. There were many articles praising the show for it’s showcasing of characters with disabilities and positive effects of this on disabled and nondisabled individuals alike. Audio description is thankfully becoming the norm with different laws pushing for it’s inclusion in certain numbers of shows.
As online venues like Netflix and ITunes become more popular advocacy is pushing these platforms as well. And by and large they are responding to the need pretty well. So why then is an obviously disability centered show not accessible for blind/ low vision viewers. I don’t know the answer to this question. Maybe a lot of people still think that there’s no way a blind person can appreciate tv. Or that a blind person would want to watch something about deaf people. Your average person on the street would consider blindness and deafness to be opposing disabilities and therefore forming relationships/ sharing interests between those disabilities would be very difficult if not impossible.
This is why I strongly believe this show must be audio described to make a statement that blind people are interested in the show and the issues it raises for all disabilities. More importantly, we’re very interested and care about the issues affecting deaf people and want to be supportive. We want to learn about ASL, issues between deaf and hearing people that come up and in general bridge the gap between these disabilities. Because it’s not true that they’re a barrier. Months and months after my initial pestering of Robert about everything deaf I’ve made a deep and lasting connection with my friend. And ask him less questions because I realize I don’t need to pretend to know everything about deaf people to be her friend. That our friendship goes way beyond each of our disabilities. And I’m learning to sign. Which is a whole other story.
To sum up, we need as many people as possible to get on board with our efforts.
We’re currently corresponding with contacts at audio description organizations who are more than willing to provide AD in a fairly inexpensive and high quality manner. We’ve contacted the producer who unfortunately has not been able to pass on any contacts from ABC family itself. We’re turning to online platforms as our best bet for this project as the show is ending in 2017. We haven’t gotten any response from Netflix or Apple at this point.
— Lizzy Weiss (@Lizzy_Weiss) May 28, 2016
What we need is a lot of people behind us. It won’t happen with just two people saying we want this!
We need more voices. if anyone thinks about the show from this point of view, that it’s a disability centered piece, yet excludes blind access, it only makes sense to want to help as much as you can. I look forward to connecting with a lot of people around this. I know we can win if we work together!