TCA: ABC Family's 'Switched at Birth' Shines Light on Deaf Culture

Switched at Birth TCA - H 2012

Last summer, ABC Family uncovered its newest success story in Switched at Birth, a drama revolving around two teenage girls (one deaf, the other not) who discover they were, well, switched at birth.

The network's entertainment chief Michael Riley continued to promote its success, evidenced by the series' hefty 32-episode first season. During the panel, it was clear how closely tied the executive producers and cast members were to the story. At one point, co-star Constance Marie nearly broke down while discussing the series.

"It's shining a beautiful spotlight on the deaf community," Marie told reporters at the Television Critics Assoc. press tour in Pasadena, adding that people are now petitioning their high schools to have American Sign Language (ASL) as a second language.

PHOTOS: 17 New Shows Premiering in 2012

Created by Lizzy Weiss, Switched at Birth thrusts the spotlight on the deaf and hard of hearing community, with two of its main cast members (Katie Leclerc and Sean Berdy) a part of that culture.

In casting the role of Daphne (Leclerc), Weiss said that she and executive producer Paul Stupin only saw people who were deaf and hard of hearing for the character, in addition to looking at non-actors. Weiss, who took an ASL class in college that prompted her interest, offered this tidbit: "It was important to me that [Katie] play more deaf than she is," playing the deaf accent is feeling the distance between people.

Co-star and deaf actor Sean Berdy "never expected the character [Emmett] to be popular. .. I never expected Emmett to take of."

High School Musical vet Lucas Grabeel compared his previous experience working for the Disney franchise compared to his current project. "It's a little less frantic energy," Grabeel says. "I actually got to write a song for the show."

As for spoilers on upcoming episodes (the lawsuit with the hospital will continue), Weiss said that Angelo (Gilles Marini) "is here to stay" and wants to get to know his daughter Bay (Vanessa Marano). With that, comes conflict; Stupin added also that Angelo also has "secrets."

Bay's old friend Simone (Maiara Walsh) will also play a pivotal role in Daphne's story. The way she interacts with Daphne is a lot smoother than when she did with Bay, Marano revealed, adding that Simone symbolizes who Bay was already friends with.

Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.