Deaf inclusion and authentic representation has landed at “Grey’s Anatomy” thanks to actress Shoshannah Stern, who will play the series’ first deaf doctor.
Stern will play diagnostics expert Dr. Lauren Riley on the hit TV medical drama over multiple episodes. Dr. Riley was recruited by Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital regular Dr. Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) to consult on a complex patient played by actress Sarah Rafferty. Stern will make her debut on the series Thursday in the episode titled “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
— Shoshannah Stern (@Shoshannah7) February 3, 2020
Stern is best known for her role on “Supernatural,” and as the co-creator of her own series, “This Close.” In an interview with ET, Stern reflected on being the first deaf doctor on “Grey’s” and one of the few deaf doctors in TV history. She highlighted that the entire “Grey’s Anatomy” team collaborated with her on bringing Dr. Riley’s character to life and ensure their representation of what it’s like to be a deaf doctor was accurate.
“‘Grey’s’ didn’t just collaborate with me, they also reached out to several other deaf doctors to make sure that what they were writing was accurate,” Stern told ET. “I really don’t think Dr. Riley could or should have happened any other way. Maybe that’s why she is one of the first. Maybe that’s how she had to be brought to life.”
“Having a deaf doctor on a show like this could change, even save lives,” Stern added, and it comes back to letting people tell their own stories. At the Media Access Awards in November, Stern highlighted that authentic representation — casting deaf actors to play deaf characters — is critical in entertainment and the media.
“If it’s not authentic, then it’s not disability representation,” Stern previously told The Mighty, adding:
You lose an opportunity there to educate. You lose opportunities for people to learn how it is to communicate with a person, how it is to make the set accessible, etc. So all of that is lost. The person is just playing the role that they could take off — it’s almost like a costume that they could take off at the end of the day — and disability is not a costume.
For her “Grey’s Anatomy” character, Stern also said she wanted Dr. Riley’s story to be about more than deafness. Dr. Riley, like anybody, is a fully-fledged person who just happens to be deaf because that’s not usually realistic.
“It was important to me that rather than Dr. Riley overcoming this insurmountable obstacle of deafness in order to be great at her job, her being deaf actually made her better at what she did,” Stern told ET. She continued:
Deaf people have already been deaf for a very long time, so they’ve got this. In reality, it’s the other people around them who struggle because they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, I have no experience communicating with this person in this particular way.’ That’s what the new experience actually is, and I think we got to show that in a very organic way.
— Shoshannah Stern (@Shoshannah7) February 5, 2020
Dr. Riley will be featured in several upcoming “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes and Stern teased that at first, she’s a no-nonsense doctor who doesn’t have time to gently “educate” those around her about how to communicate with a deaf doctor. She has a job to do, and everybody else better catch up. But like always on “Grey’s,” viewers will get a glimpse inside her relationships as well.
“The more Dr. Riley hangs around, the more we’re going to learn about who she is beyond that initial impression,” Stern shared. “She’s had a lot of practice with advocating for herself, so she’s definitely someone who’s not afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself and others. I think that might end up having an impact on other people and their interpersonal relationships in ways that may be surprising.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.