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‘Switched At Birth’ and Monette’s CART Captioning

Switched At Birth And Monette’s CART Captioning

~~ Originally published in my column “Beyond The Comfort Zone” within NCRA’s Journal of Court Reporting, JCR
By Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved

Two teenagers discover that they were switched at birth while researching a school assignment. Genetic testing is completed when the students learn “blood types” and when the high school students learn that they do not match their family.

Marlee Matlin plays a basketball coach and guidance counselor in a deaf school.

She communicates through sign language and (some) voicing. Marlee was raised Big D (Deaf) using sign as her only communication. She did not speak until 1986 when she appeared in “Children Of A Lesser God.”

I remember when Marlee made the choice to learn to speak. I stayed “quiet” during all Deaf/sign interpreter conversations as I watched from my “hearing” chair within the Deaf community where I have been embraced.

I have also CARTed many heated discussions to large screens about her choice – many heated discussions by Deaf and from sign interpreters.

Marlee’s TV character, Melody Bledsoe, has a deaf teen in the show.

One teen, actor Sean Berdy, is Deaf.

The character, Emmett, signs ASL, American Sign Language, speaks a little, and is expanding a relationship with a “hearing” teen.

When Emmett enrolls in “voice class” another (big) storyline is developed.

Sean is a role model within the Deaf community. Deaf blogs detail Sean’s “nuances” as Sean’s signs are unique to Sean. Blogs by deaf teens note that Sean’s “cool signs” display subtleties that voicing cannot share. (Long ago, I learned that sign language is able to communicate “much more than just words.”)

One teen, actress Katie Leclerc, has Meniere’s (inner ear disease) and speaks as Daphne Vasquez. Many Deaf and HOH, Hard of Hearing, individuals live with Meniere’s. This teen makes choices in her role as Daphne that are unique to her character.

One parent left a wife and small child when he had a DNA test, which confirmed the daughter was not his – long before the high school blood type assignment.

Have I piqued your interest yet?

Switched At Birth began as a one-hour show. It was such a success that ABCFM, ABC Family network, expanded the show to 22 episodes, August 1, 2011. The show continues to develop with storylines and character development that is rich and very true to the nuances within each culture – deaf, hard-of-hearing, oral deaf, and hearing choices.

If you desire to step into the Little D (typically sign language and mainstreamed with some voicing) and Big D (typically sign language and no voicing) culture, this is a wonderful opportunity.

The show has hit sensitive areas. I admire their truths.

Switched At Birth does not duck sensitive areas and episodes are powerful.

Deaf blogs discuss why Deaf actors are “voicing” words.

They write that if Deaf individuals were signing, their voice (“voice-box” is the term used by Deaf and interpreters) “would be off” (turned off), and no one would hear.

They ask: “Why do Deaf actors need to sign and voice? We don’t.”

Open captions in large white font are displayed when signs are used within scenes where words are not spoken. Yes, the show is closed captioned.

In 1993 I was accepted into San Antonio’s Big D world. What I have learned remains timeless.

In the trench, I was taught cultural differences and (im)possibilities by Deaf, deaf, oral deaf, early deafened, late deafened, and by hard of hearing.

It is an honor to be accepted into the Big D world if you are hearing, do not have a deaf family member and are not a sign interpreter.

Months after CARTing the weekly mass at St. Francesco Di Paola church, one day deaf friends insisted “you must have a sign.” A vote was called.

I was voted “in” on the church steps within Piazza Italia next to the Christopher Columbus Knights of Columbus historic building.

“You have earned this,” I was told.

A “sign name” must be given/gifted by a deaf person.

A hearing person does not create their own sign name. Never. Never.

Sign interpreters frequently commented that I would never, never, never be given a sign as an outsider. Never.

I remember I smiled each time and softly shared that I would earn my name; I would be accepted.

The terps, interpreters, vehemently disagreed.

Yet in 1993, I stayed in the saddle fascinated by their world, their culture, as I CARTed the mass dedicated to deaf and Deaf culture with interpreters and priests who signed.

While CARTing on Sundays I continued to teach, and to CART and caption local, state, and national events in the trench – often next to sign interpreters.

The Sunday my friends insisted “you must have a name” a respected, wise elder was called to the church steps.

Signs for names are unique to each person (personality, facial features, work).

“She will give you a name! This is our thanking you. Come! Stand here! Come!”

Quietly, I stood hands folded, head down, and waited while this wise lady approached.

Interpreters approached to sign and Deaf gathered to “listen.”

The wise elder touched her chin, tipped her head upward. She folded her arms, standing pensive for approximately two minutes.

Everyone was quiet.

I remember listening to the many birds in the trees overhead waiting for my Deaf friends to gift me my sign name.

Then the wise elder “declared my sign with two versions” (it is unique to have two sign names, yet if gifted by Big D, it is so).

Whenever I sign my “name sign” (two names) Deaf and interpreters always know it was gifted.

Traveling the United States, when I show my sign name, the two versions, initially, people have a startled reaction.

“Two? You have two? Wow.”

When I explain why I have two sign names as explained to me by the wise elder while she proclaimed my signs, each person always laughs and says, “Ahhhhh, I understand now.”

And I learned boundaries after I stepped over many during my learning curve. (Indeed.)

Deaf adults and teens taught me about acceptance, lack of acceptance, ignorance, and the very frequent comment from hearing individuals, “I knew a deaf person once.”

Multiple times when I was out with Deaf friends they insisted I “be deaf.”

No voicing. Zip.

When I was “the hearing person” people spoke only to me and not to the Deaf people.

“What do they want to eat? What do they want to drink?”

I would sigh and reply each time, “They’re deaf. Why don’t ‘you’ ask them?”

And when hearing people spoke to Deaf individuals – far too many hearing would speak slowly and (over)pronounce every syllable with exacting diligence.

My deaf friends and interpreters were always insulted. Always.

When I was “be deaf” (their term) for the event or the meal, I was able to experience the world from their seat, from their ears. Eye-opening memories are still fresh.

Once accepted into the Deaf world they shared true moments with me when their “Deaf hands” were tied together to prevent students from communicating and as punishment in (public and private) school.

Deaf who were enrolled in schools where oral communication was the first mode of communication (signing often was not permitted) shared stories that still raise my eyebrows.

They insisted I CART the true stories and “put our words into your computer, so you know our world. We want you to know!”

And Deaf discussed not receiving textbooks in mainstream schools “since the teachers knew – and told us – we would not do well on tests or graduate! The teachers that told us those words did not sign. They were not speaking our words, our language.”

A deaf person who marries a sign interpreter may experience discrimination.

A sign interpreter who marries a deaf person will “always have our hands working just so ‘you’ can hear, and that’s not fair to us!”

A Deaf person who signs, does not voice and dates or marries a deaf (little D) person who voices and signs may experience discrimination.

A Big D or Little D person who marries a hearing person?

That is a whole nuther topic. A big whole nuther topic.

Once I was welcome to ask my questions, I did.

Adults wiped crocodile tears and insisted that if I wanted to be part of their world I needed to know their truth.

Until I was able to understand basic signs and to understand fingerspelling as their “token hearing girl” the moments were pure Deaf.

Alone, I drove to a Deaf Block Party just as the local animal shelter arrived with deaf dogs that “will be put down if you don’t adopt them.” This is common, I learned.

Yes, the deaf dogs at the deaf block party found new homes that night.

As I walked alone for long periods of time, finally an interpreter approached, “You have got to be dumber than dirt to want to go through all this. Just tell me why you really are here.”

Oh, yes, she did.

I shared my reason for attending and for wanting inclusion.

She listened and asked a few questions. Any deaf in your family? Any interpreters in your family? None? And you really want to do this because … (reason I shared…)

I nodded watching the balloons and colorful ribbons that were tied to the street lights that night.

Standing with her left hand on her hip, this sign interpreter quickly made a sweeping motion with her right hand.

Deaf approached. I remained quiet. I knew something important had just happened.

Then she said, “OK. Now you’re in.” I remember raising my eyebrows.

Several Deaf crossed the street to hug me, and immediately took me by the hand into the throng of people, laughing, signing, and singing.

Oh, and they played practical jokes while I was an outsider. Yes, they did.

Later, at Deaf camp (a weekend retreat in the Hill Country) I remember when they wanted “something” (I could not understand the signs and no one would voice the words for me) late one night around a campfire.

Deaf sat with flashlights around the huge campfire.

When a person spoke, signed, each would hold the flashlight toward their face with the light on.

Then the person who signed would point their flashlight down.

When a person responded that person would turn their flashlight toward their own face while they signed.

Holding the flashlight in one hand and signing with two hands while speaking was a first for me.

Fascinated, I sat on the top of the hill with the large group. There was no electricity. I was chilled to the bone. I sat on a cold, hard rock watching and listening.

Deaf voiced, to me, “We need ….” and gestured wildly to me – motioning off into the dark.

I remember wincing a lot before they stood and pointed to the brush over and over. “We need …”

And off I went – alone.

Each time I came back alone, more confused with what I was looking for, their laughter was louder and louder.

Yet while they motioned for me to go “look for …” I did. I sure did.

Only later did I learn (after many trips up and down the hill that had no path) that what I was “to go find” was a UFO. Indeed.

I got ’em back.

The next day there was a time set aside for private confessions with the signing priest.

I told them that I “had” to CART their confessions if they wanted confession that evening.

They were so proud of me for “getting us back – and we believed you for hours, too!”

The priest “outed” me as he giggled and agreed that we were all becoming a team together.

That night, I agreed that I would not CART their confessions if they would agree not to send me off into the dark brush looking for anything ever again. We had us a deal.

My favorite memory of the confession with the signing priest?

I had not planned to participate.

When everyone was finished he came out of the room and looked to me. I smiled and ever so slowly shook my head.

The priest smiled and motioned to me. He pointed to the empty room and he went in.

My friends were insistent that I “You have to go. Go. GO!”

When I did go in, two chairs were turned to face each other in the middle of the large room.

This signing priest, smiled, and gestured to the chair facing him.

I remember pausing for a moment. He said, “The lights have to be turned on so we can see the signs and communicate. This is how all Deaf go to confession.”

I said, “This room has more lights than high noon.”

When I sat in the chair facing him there was a long, awkward silence.

He paused and said, “I want to ask you something. May I?” I nodded.

Then the dear man asked, “How does that machine work?”

I threw my head back and laughed and laughed. The question we always “get.”

He said, “No! really! How does it work? I am fascinated by it and what you do.”

I sighed, and gave him a mini-version of the machine, theory, and our work.

He said, “Fascinating! Now tell me about …”

I asked if there was a time limit by saying, “Surely there must be someone else who needs to meet with you.”

He laughed, “No, you’re the last. I wanted to speak to you last, so I could have this conversation.”

Me, “Great.” He laughed and then asked me many, many, many questions.

About twenty-five minutes later we were both laughing and enjoying our “confessional” moment.

I said, “The others are going to wonder … Oh, by the way, should I participate in confession now?”

The priest again laughed. “No, you are good. Let’s not tell the others, though. I have thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you, listening, learning, and sharing. I thank you.”

We stood and he hugged me.

I remember I said, “Well, this is the most unusual confession in my life – to include the one time in St. Peters in the Vatican where the man ‘heard’ my confession, and then I learned that he did not understand English. I will always remember this confession – that wasn’t a confession at all – with you.”

When we opened the door, everyone (and I mean every-one) was standing there.

I heard, “Wow! You must have been BAD! You were in there forever!!!!”

I looked to the priest. He silent as a lamb, sweet smile on his face.

I said, “No, it wasn’t really like that …” My Deaf friends became more insistent “how bad you were to have been in there that long.”

Another Deaf-moment memory (my term) is the evening I entered a hotel lobby and a Deaf person was playing the piano.

Hotel guests were shocked at how “bad” (their word) the piano player was.

I unpacked my CART equipment, put my hands at my side, and simply walked away. I knew better than to become involved — and it was fun to watch.

I will always remember the Deaf adults who casually leaned on that huge, sparkling, black piano to feel the sound and vibration from the piano notes.

Later, they said, “Wow. ‘That’ was bad! And no one would say a word!? Not one hearing person! Ha! Ha! Ha! And for once they didn’t know we were Deaf. That was Great!”

The television show “Switched At Birth” shares factual events that occur within families, at work, in school, and while dating. A cast member is a soldier as many current events are front and center.

Switched At Birth accurately portrays subtle moments and explores wide-open topics that splits — and unites families, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

The last scene from a January 2012 episode ended with Emmett responding to a police officer speaking to Emmett in Emmett’s garage. The scene ended with Emmett facedown in handcuffs.

Sadly, this is common. Police officers pull over cars with Deaf and interpreters who are signing.

Many officers do not have deaf sensitivity training. Incidents do result that would be different if the occupants of the vehicle were not signing. (This is well documented.)

While traveling to Deaf camp in 1993, the church van was pulled over.

When I learned why they were late and gasped, everyone said, “IT happens ‘all’ the time! Police think we’re drunk and pull us over. Then we have to go through all the drunk tests with people who don’t let us sign and will not call interpreters and do not understand why we have to keep looking at them! They want us to turn around, and we can’t!”

Deaf adults also shared that when police arrive at residents officers may not ring the doorbell. If police knock, Deaf will not hear and may rely on their assistive doorbell.

San Antonio’s Police Department began a campaign to request Deaf to register with SAPD, so they would have a deaf listing.

The Deaf, as explained to me, absolutely did not want to register to be “different” on “another list.”

One oral deaf friend who reads lips (and refuses to learn sign language) shared how his hotel door was “broken down” by firemen who threw him over their shoulder with a blanket, and carried him down stairs within a burning hotel. (The fire alarm did not work in his room; he always registers as deaf.)

CART, captioning, and the ADA have changed deaf and HOH communities.

Court reporters and sign interpreters are serving individuals with mandated equal access.

Yet when sign language is not the person’s first language, we may not be the best “equal access.”

The events, stories, plots, and drama in Switched At Birth come from the perspective of Deaf and hearing teens and their families that are played out in the school events, social gatherings, and within private moments in the series.

A request has been made by cochlear implant teens to include implant stories.

Recently, there was a reference to CART in the classroom. Maybe ABCFM will include a CART provider or display captioning?


Watch. The show truly is wonderful family entertainment.  After you watch, let me know what you think.

Switched At Birth episodes contains multiple venues wherein we can learn together, and we are “equal” moving forward together.

—-  Monette, named the Court Reporting Whisperer by students, may be reached:  Monette.purplebooks@CRRbooks.com

Purple Books – Court Reporter Reference Books & CDs: www.CRRbooks.com   * Advance skills, pass NCRA and State exams the 1st time

Monette Benoit, B. B.A., CCR, CRI, CPE, Paralegal, CART Captioner, Instructor, Consultant, Columnist

Since 1990: Multiple Title Author of Books & Purple Books Test Prep for the Court Reporting, CART Captioning Profession

An American RealTime/Captioning Services, LLC: www.ARTCS.com        Blog: Monette’s Musings, www.monettebenoit.com

Have you failed NCRA’s RPR, RDR, or a State exam?  More than once?   Purple Books “Done in One” has a 98% successful pass rate on exams with sets as evidenced by thousands of students and professionals who pass their RPR, CSR, and RDR exams on the first test.   Testimonials: www.CRRbooks.com.

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About Monette Benoit:    As a 30+ year court reporter, CART captioner, author of NCRA and State test-prep material, instructor, public speaker, Monette Benoit has taught multiple theories, academics, all speed classes, and 225-homeroom within NCRA-approved schools and a community college. She understands challenges many adults face in our industry.

In 1993, she began to CART caption to a large screen for a Deaf mass, San Antonio, Texas.  Wonderful opportunities then presented from Big D, Little D, Oral Deaf, HOH consumers -each with special moments.

Monette Benoit has worked with thousands of professionals, court reporters, CART captioners, students, instructors. She has helped to create new court reporting training programs, worked with federal grants, and assisted instructors in developing curriculum for both in-class and at-home students.

Her one-on-one tutoring, private coaching, has assisted thousands of students, novice and experienced professionals to reach the next level.

Monette’s Musings is an informative, motivational, and funny blog for busy professionals and students who seek to create their success and who seek to enjoy this special path.

28 Jan 2020