When Switched at Birth debuted in 2011 on ABC Family, expectations were mild. It was a risky show that had never been done before. While the show’s premise is about two girls who were literally “switched at birth” and went home to different parents, the subplot became the driving force and the show’s differentiator; one of the girls who was switched became Deaf, and grew up in a Deaf world. And so Switched at Birth becomes a show about identity issues, addressing Deaf culture in ways never before seen on television. While the show features a star-studded cast, the breakout star comes unexpectedly from 18-year old Sean Berdy.
Sean Berdy plays the role of Emmett Bledsoe, “a James Dean-type character who is as independent as he is selective,” explained Berdy. Emmett Bledsoe stands out on the show not because the character is profoundly Deaf and he deals with issues with being Deaf (which he does), but because he deals with the issues of growing up in high school and being a teenager. This unique perspective has resonated strongly with Switched at Birth’s 2.7 million viewers, creating a hit following and generating extensive media coverage.
Sean Berdy was nominated for the Teen Breakout Star award at the Teen Choice Awards for his performances, an honor he humbly accepts responsibility for. “I’m proud of the way that Switched at Birth has help expose the Deaf community for what it really is to our mainstream audience, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity to represent who I am.” While his acting career is just beginning, he has already found a love and passion for the work. “To me, it’s not just about acting. It’s about sharing the art of entertainment. I’m proud that so many different kinds of people are able to enjoy the show, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
There have been many well-known Deaf actors and actresses who have made it in Hollywood, people who have fought and paved the way for a groundbreaking series like Switched at Birth. But Sean feels that there’s still work to be done. “I see a need to continue breaking down barriers between the hearing and Deaf communities, and I’d like to take part in building bridges that close the gap.“ Sean Berdy’s role and character on Switched at Birth has continued to expand and garner more attention, and there is little doubt that this will inspire a positive effect on future opportunities for Deaf actors in movies and television.
The character Emmett Bledsoe is known for riding motorcycles, his passion for photography, and for the emotional issues he faces when forced to choose sides between his divorced parents. While being Deaf adds depth to the character, it is far from the dominant issue that Emmett faces every day in life. Just like the normal life Sean Berdy lives in the real world as a Deaf person. And that is the type of normal, inspirational character the Deaf community has been waiting for.
Sean Berdy is the winner of the DeafNation Inspiration Award for Entertainment in 2012.
By Anthony Mowl