Although more individuals around the world are developing hearing loss, deaf and hard of hearing people are largely underrepresented when it comes to TV shows. When they are shown, they’re often used as a plot device for a single episode or as a punchline when an older character can’t hear.
However, there are a few examples of strong and positive TV characters with hearing loss who played a central role on their shows and demonstrated the realities of hearing difficulties to viewers. Here are some of the best deaf or hard of hearing characters from TV:
1. Linda, “Sesame Street”
For more than 30 years, Linda Bove, who is deaf in real life, portrayed Linda the librarian on the beloved children’s show. From using sign language to communicate with the rest of the people and puppets in the neighborhood to her relationship with the character Bob, Linda showed millions of kids (and their parents) that deaf people can be valuable members of the community and live normal lives, despite the challenges they may face.
2. Daphne Vasquez, “Switched at Birth”
Meningitis at age three left Daphne (played by Katie Leclerc), with hearing loss, and she grows up learning sign language and attends a high school for the deaf. The show positively portrays what it’s like to be a teen with hearing loss, with the added twist of finding out she was switched at birth. The show has several other characters who are deaf or hard of hearing, and even had an episode that was almost entirely in sign language.
3. Gordon Cole, “Twin Peaks”
On a quirky show full of eccentric characters, Gordon Cole, played by series director David Lynch, is one of the most memorable. He is known for his large and outdated hearing aids (even by 1991 standards), due to severe hearing loss caused by an incident he only describes as “a long story.” Despite his hearing loss, he served as a Regional Bureau Chief of the FBI, and by the time of the show’s long-awaited third season in 2017, he had become Deputy Director of the organization.
4. Joey Lucas, “The West Wing”
Played by Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, Joey Lucas was an expert political pollster who happened to be deaf. While other shows tend to focus on the challenges of deaf or hard of hearing characters, Joey’s storylines centered on the issues she faced as a woman in the world of politics as well as her love life. This helped to show that hearing loss doesn’t define a person—it is just a part of who they are.
5. Emma Coolidge, “Heroes”
Despite being unable to hear, Dr. Emma Coolidge (Deanne Bray) is still able to experience sound through synesthesia, which enables her to perceive it in the form of visualized colors. While synesthesia is a real condition, on this show about ordinary people with super powers, Emma is able to harness sound waves and use them to manipulate other people’s emotions or even turn them into physical blasts.
Stay tuned for a future post where we’ll highlight some of the best movie characters with hearing loss!