ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth” is pretty much what it sounds like – the tale of two teenage girls who discover that the hospital swapped up their ID tags when they were born.
One of them, Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) drives a BMW, lives in a mansion, and attends a fancy private school. The other, Daphne Vasquez (Katie LeClerc), went deaf after an illness in infancy, and has grown up in a less desirable neighborhood with her single mother.
While Marano is recognizable, particularly to “Gilmore Girls” fans, LeClerc is a newer face. She’s has had small roles on “Veronica Mars” and “Hard Times of RJ Berger,” but “Switched at Birth” is her first high-profile gig.
“To make this show real and genuine, we had to find hard-of-hearing actors,” executive producer Paul Stupin says in a casting feature. “We were looking for a character who could be the lead of an ABC Family show, who has a great look, who is a wonderful actress, who has a sense of confidence that the character has, and optimism, and at the same time, had to be hard of hearing.”
“I started to take sign language in high school, because I was very bad at Spanish, and I fell in love with the language and the culture that surrounds it,” LeClerc says. As a teenager, she got her hearing tested as part of a project, and was shocked to discover that she actually needed hearing aids.
LeClerc has Meniere’s Disease. Sufferers have hearing loss, usually on one side, that fluctuates, and they frequently experience a roaring sound, similar to the sound we hear when we listen to a seashell.
“Some days I hear pretty well,” LeClerc says. “And some days I hear absolutely nothing.” LeClerc wasn’t able to afford the hearing aids that she needed, but when she was cast on “Switched at Birth,” ABC provided the funds for the equipment. “I’m so, so thankful to have them, but sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes they don’t really do a whole lot for me.”
Daphne’s friend Emmett is played by Sean Berdy, who, like his character, is deaf. “In the casting breakdown, I had written that I wanted deaf James Dean,” says creator Lizzy Weiss. “I think we found him.”
“I was born deaf,” Berdy signs, using an interpreter for EPK interviews. “I was raised in a hearing world and in a deaf world at the same time. I can’t say that I like one better than I like the other. I like them both. I speak pretty well; I gesture. If I don’t understand something, you know, pen and paper, texting. I use it all.”
Berdy says that he was impressed with the way that deaf culture was handled in the pilot script. “Little things, like how to communicate with hearing people, like the environment of a deaf school and how that functions,” he says. “Exactly like my life. It was definitely one of a kind.”