Lots of us have wondered if we were adopted when we were kids and imagined that maybe our “real” parents were wealthy, famous or perhaps even royalty. Well, on ABC Family’s new series Switched at Birth, premiering tonight at 9 p.m., two teenage girls discover they were accidentally switched in the hospital as babies and their parents are not who they thought.
Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) grew up in a wealthy family; while Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc), who is deaf as a result of meningitis, grew up in a working-class neighborhood. Now they have to face the truth and try to deal with the reality of what happens when your life is turned upside down.
We spoke to LeClerc about how she relates to her deaf character because in real-life she suffers from Meniere’s Disease, an inner ear disorder that affects balance and hearing.
What can you tell us about your character?
Katie Leclerc: Daphne is a typical, high school girl. She plays basketball. She’s got boyfriends. She gets good grades. And she’s deaf. It was really exciting to be able to portray that. I learned sign language when I was 17 in high school. When I was 20, I found out that I had Meniere’s Disease and I am very, very, very fortunate that I will be able to communicate for the rest of my life, because it gets worse over time.
So you have a hearing loss?
Katie Leclerc: I’m hard of hearing. Yes. One of the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease is the hearing fluctuates.
You lip read, too?
Katie Leclerc: Yes.
What made you learn?
Katie Leclerc: Just a very serendipitous thing. I think things happen for a reason.
Did you ever feel you wanted to switch lives and not have that?
Katie Leclerc: You know, for me, the disease progresses and it gets worse as it progresses, but I’ve been able to bear with it. There are definitely symptoms and some times are harder than others, but my sister’s is far more progressed than mine and to see how her struggle goes and see what she does is sort of inspiring. I’m lucky because I get to know what I have to look forward to so I can prepare for it.
What did you learn from her?
Katie Leclerc: To stay strong. There’s really nothing you can do about it, so I just try to keep a positive attitude.
Do you do your voice on the show?
Katie Leclerc: I do speak in accents on the show. We mapped out Daphne’s hearing loss and what that would mean for her accent. So I trained in dialect and worked on that very hard.
Get any advice from co-star Marlee Matlin re the deaf culture?
Katie Leclerc: I’ve had some great conversations with Marlee. The deaf community has a different perspective on the world than the hearing community does and I think this show is going to be a great bridge between the two worlds.
Has anyone not wanted to cast you because of the Meniere’s Disease?
Katie Leclerc: Most people are unaware of my hearing loss.
If you lose your hearing do you still speak? Have you thought about that, what it would be like?
Katie Leclerc: I think that I’m going to embrace the moment that I’ve been given right now and take it one day at a time. But I have every intention in the world to continue with my career and keep up with the good work.
Did Marlee talk about what she went through when she was young?
Katie Leclerc: She did. She had a lot to hurdle. I look up to her with all my heart. The moment I found out she was on the show I started screaming. I’ve been such a fan of hers for my whole life.