Not since “Lincoln Heights” has an ABC Family show actively met my expectations in terms of promoting socially redeeming TV programming that lives up to the station name. The hot mess that could have been a powerful vehicle for health promotion and a discussion on smarter /safer sex choices – “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” – is finally coming to an end. So as far as a show that takes a look at issues that are pertinent to families and considers health and medicine in the 21st century, “Switched at Birth” presented and episode that not only made television history, but has furthered the discussion about how best to meet the needs to the hearing impaired. With the exception of the first 10 minutes of the March 4th episode, the entire episode was presented with captioning and the dialogue in American Sign Language and told primarily from the perspective of the deaf characters. As a viewer, you had to read lips, hands or the captioning intently. But after a certain point in time, the absence of spoken dialogue was not a factor.
In recent episodes, the show has focused on the struggles of the fictional Carlton School for the Deaf as it undergoes growing pains with the introduction of a new program where hearing students are allowed to attend the school. In the show, this is the only school for the deaf in Kansas City. The issues presented do seem to reflect the current climate in other cities and the limited number of institutions for educating hearing impaired students.
In the city of Chicago, there is one school for the deaf, Holy Trinity School for the Deaf, a school for hearing impaired elementary school students (pre-school -8th grade) that is part of the Children of Peace Catholic School. Chicago Public Schools offer programs for hearing impaired students in grades K-12, which come as a result of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) but no institutions specifically for deaf students. The ongoing debate is whether educating hearing impaired students in schools where they are in the minority rather than schools where they are with peers that live with similar impairments makes for a better social and educational experience. With the recently announced planned closure of 54 schools, consolidation may further limit resources for hearing impaired students. Parents of deaf students must look beyond the city of the Chicago and across the state to determine the full scope of educational alternatives for their children.