I always pay special attention to episodes in which people with significant disabilities are part of the story. This morning I poured myself some tea, and settled in to watch my guilty pleasure show, Grey’s Anatomy.
It’s set in my hometown. I have no other excuse.
This week’s episode had a very minor Deaf storyline. Representations of Deafness on tv have always been mixed in my opinion – on the mostly good side, we have “Switched at Birth” which has Deaf actors playing Deaf characters, and featured the first ever television episode to be done entirely in Sign. On the other hand, you have situations like in The Amazing Race, where a Deaf contestant is always shown as angry and frustrated.
This episode of Grey’s fell much to the bad side of things, the Deaf characters were only present for a minute or two, and they were presented as Angry Deafies. What was particularly bothersome to me was that while the characters used Sign, they were not subtitled, and the husband (who was hearing) spoke for the wife (who was Deaf).
Furthermore, the dialogue about whether or not cochlear implants are OK wasn’t had with Deaf characters, it was an argument between two hearing people about whether or not cochlear implants are okay.
It bothers me when the dialogue around the “cure” for a disability is meted through non-disabled characters. It bothers me because those who have the option to use such devices are the ones who get to decide whether or not there is a cost benefit, not those who live in the world of full access.
Deaf culture is incredibly important, and I wish that the creators of Grey’s Anatomy had chosen to demonstrate the fullness of that world rather than give the dialogue over to the hearing.