"When I read this script, I was literally like they're never going to find this girl," Marano told reporters at ABC Family's winter TV preview Monday. "I'm so thankful that someone like Katie [Leclerc] did get cast — someone who has been doing this for so long."
On the drama Marano and Leclerc play teenagers who discover they were literally switched at birth in the hospital 16 years ago. The series largely focuses on how the girls' families blend together and come to terms with the discovery. But the show has also received attention for the attention it has brought to the deaf community because of Daphne.
When casting Daphne, it was important to "have cultural perspective on hearing loss," creator and executive producer Lizzy Weiss said. Leclerc, who suffers from the degenerative inner ear disorder Ménière's disease, was the clear choice, "I feel comfortable in the deaf world I feel comfortable in the hearing world," Leclerc said. "I'm glad I can cross over."
While Leclerc has had to use a deaf accent, the rest of the cast has had to learn sign language — both for their scenes in front of the camera as well as for their own personal knowledge. Co-star Lucas Grabeel said after Leclerc began teaching him five signs a day, he now signs with his girlfriend at parties. "Every one of the cast members has learned some sign language and they're doing fantastic," said Sean Berdy, who plays Daphne's childhood deaf friend (and Bay's new boyfriend), Emmett. Berdy has been deaf since birth and grew up in a deaf household.
Since the show premiered, Constance Marie and others said they've received positive response online from fans newly interested in sign language. Marano's father, a language professor, told her that Switched at Birth is now being used in American Sign Language classes. "[The show] has taken a culture that has not been looked at and is shining a big, beautiful light on the deaf community. ... The more people that learn sign language the better," Berdy said. "This is part of my life, but it's not part of everybody's life, so it's nice to expose this to the world."
That exposure will only continue: The cast and producers said there will be more deaf characters introduced on the series, including a character who, like Daphne, grew up with a hearing parent but had a very different childhood.
Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 8/7c.Watch our interview with Katie Leclerc: