By Monterey Buchanan
I don’t normally get that worked up about TV couples. Once you watch a few shows you realize that certain couples are going to be together in the end, and anyone standing in the way of that won’t last long: Lizzie and Gordo, Jim and Pam, Ross and Rachel; Ryan Murphy even revealed that before Cory Monteith’s tragic death, Glee’s final scene involved Rachel and Finn getting back together. But, even with all this background knowledge, and knowing that Daphne’s boyfriends on Switched at Birth tend to come and go, I am still rooting for Daphne and RJ Mitte’s character Campbell to get together on the show.
I admit that some pretty strong biases of my own are at work here, not just because I’m a fan of Breaking Bad, but also because I have cerebral palsy like RJ Mitte. In the real world, people with cerebral palsy are part of the 10% who have disabilities, and we’re a pretty diverse bunch: there are writers, athletes, stand-up comics, actresses, beauty queens and plenty of people outside the media spotlight among us. The trouble is that TV rarely shows the diversity of people with disabilities—we’re lucky if we get shown at all. When TV shows have disability plotlines, it’s still fairly common practice to give the part to a non-disabled actor. Even when actors with physical disabilities make it onscreen, love interests for these characters are rare. Part of the reason I started watching Switched at Birth was because they consistently buck this trend.
A notable exception to the rule where CP actors are concerned is Geri Jewell, who had a brief romance on The Facts of Life episode “Cousin Geri Returns.” Here’s the trouble though: that episode aired in 1981, or in Switched at Birth fandom terms, four years before Lea Thompson landed that other mom role she’s famous for. If you’re a person with CP waiting to see characters like you in TV couples, that’s a long time to wait.
RJ Mitte being on the show and set up as possible love interest for Daphne, (recent difficulties aside), is very encouraging to me as a CP viewer. I’ve been a big fan of Daphne since day one, and seeing the character I most identify with paired with the actor who has my disability would be a chance to see a part of myself that I have rarely seen onscreen, and would love to see more of. Successful TV shows tend to create plots and situations viewers can relate to, a reminder that they are not alone in the things that they experience. Switched at Birth is a show that understands that this reminder does not have to be just for the hearing, non-disabled majority, but can include people of all backgrounds. In fact, it is often the people you see least on TV that need this reassurance the most.
So while I understand that Daphne and Campbell are not a sure thing, and that Campbell is probably just one stop on Daphne’s larger journey as a teen figuring herself out, I hope it is a stop the writers are willing to linger over for a while—for those of us with CP, it’s been too long since we were one half of a TV couple.