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Image / Editorial

Grey’s Anatomy makes history by introducing first deaf doctor to show

by Edaein OConnell
14th Feb 2020

The long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy has made history by introducing its first deaf doctor to the show

Grey’s Anatomy has been on our screens for nearly 15 years now.

In that time it has made us cry, grieve for fictional characters and laugh. The show has also pushed the boundaries when it comes to depicting issues, whether that be feminism, mass-shootings or sexual assault.

And now it is once again breaking the mould in television by introducing a deaf character. Actress Shoshannah Stern will play Dr. Lauren Riley who enters the fray for a multi-episode storyline art. Dr. Riley is a diagnostics expert and will be helping DeLuca with an “incurable” patient.

The character was introduced in an episode that aired last night in the US. It is the first recurring deaf doctor who has appeared on a primetime network series.

Shoshannah said she used to (literally) dream of being on the show, telling Variety: “It was always just me walking around in scrubs with the other doctors like I was one of them…I remember always having trouble adjusting when I woke up from these dreams, because they always felt so vividly real.”

Medical technology

Showrunner Kristen Vernoff said she always wanted to introduce a deaf doctor into the series as they are a facet of the medical world which are barely talked about.

“I’ve always been fascinated with all the deaf doctors out there in the wild…They’re all very different, but a commonality they share is that they seem to bring a special touch to their job.”

Ms Vernoff continues: “Some have actually invented medical technology to allow them more access, some of which you’re going to see in Riley’s episodes.”

She told the show’s writers that traditionally deaf doctors make better diagnosticians than the average hearing doctor, a decision was made to create a longer-term patient whose case would prompt DeLuca to call in outside assistance.

Ms Stern’s characters if the past have been played with a mixture of lip-reading and speaking but the Grey’s Anatomy crew wanted the character to sign and allowed an interpreter to be used to communicate via an iPad which was used in scenes with various characters.

Change lives

Ms Vernoff also spoke of how she didn’t want the fact the character was deaf to define her saying: “It was most important to me that Riley was the best at what she did because, not in spite, of the fact that she’s deaf…It was also important that being deaf isn’t something that defines Riley, it just adds a unique layer to her.”

The response offscreen has been equally profound with Shoshannah receiving messages and tweets from those in the medical field.

“One mentioned that they dropped out of medical school because stuff like face masks prevented them from being able to read lips. I remember freaking out on the table of the OR when I had an emergency C-section because I understood nothing anyone was saying because of these face masks too.”

She also hopes it will encourage more people with the disability to join both the science and medical fields saying: “I hope people will see Riley and realized it an be a reality for them, too. So hopefully ‘Grey’s’ can also change lives in that particular sense.”

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