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April 14, 2010 > "My Deaf Family" local reality series

"My Deaf Family" local reality series

Submitted By Richard Medugno
Photos By courtesy of Solo One Productions

Members of a Livermore family with strong ties to Fremont are the subjects of a new reality TV show being produced by Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin. The program is called "My Deaf Family" and the nine-minute pilot episode can be viewed on YouTube at

After searching for months to find the right family, Matlin and a film crew from her production company Solo One came north from Los Angeles to the Bay Area this past January to shoot footage of the Leslie Firl and Bridgetta Bourne-Firl family. The show is centered on their 15-year-old son Jared and how he interacts with his deaf parents, and his three younger siblings (two are deaf and one is hearing like himself) as they go about their daily lives one weekend.

The senior Firls are employees of the California School for the Deaf in Fremont (CSDF) and their two deaf children are students there as well. When the family attended the Clerc Classic Basketball Tournament at the school on Gallaudet Drive, the camera crew was there to document the event. The tournament featured high schools teams from deaf schools from all over the U.S., competing just like hearing student/athletes.

When Ms. Matlin and Solo One were been unable to land a deal for "My Deaf Family" with a major TV network, they turned to the Internet and launched the pilot episode on YouTube. As part of a promotional kick-off on March 30, Matlin, Bourne-Firl, and other deaf community members visited Google headquarters in Mountain View.

Matlin gave a lively speech, thanking the Internet giant and its employees, for developing and implementing automatic closed captioning of videos, and thus, providing access to all the content on YouTube to deaf and hard of hearing viewers. Then she introduced the "My Deaf Family" pilot to the Google crowd for its premiere showing.

According to her messages via Twitter, Matlin is hoping to generate enough online interest and support to make television network executives re-consider signing on and airing the show. As of April 8, nearly 80,000 people have viewed the "My Deaf Family" video.

When asked about the reaction to the first couple of weeks of being on a reality show, Bridgetta Bourne-Firl said, "At first, it was a mix of excitement and feeling weird, seeing our last name in the reviews, especially the one by Entertainment Weekly. Our neighbors and our relatives have emailed, telling us how much they learned about what it's like for us and the millions of others who are deaf."

"One neighbor told me of a story of a distant deaf cousin and how the family thought it was bad when she wanted to drive and when she had children. All turned out to be fine. Ignorance was and still is the problem in our society. Awareness can go a long way!"

Bourne-Firl is no novice to media exposure. Back in the late -1980's, when Marlee Matlin was winning her Academy Award for her leading role in the movie "Children of a Lesser God," Bourne-Firl was a high-profile student leader at Gallaudet University in the "Deaf President Now!" rebellion that closed down the campus and led to the appointment of the first deaf president of the only liberal arts college for deaf students in the world.

As for why she agreed to expose her personal/family life to potentially millions of viewers, Bourn-Firl said she and her husband Les (a 1982 graduate of CSDF and now a high school teacher there) wanted to show those who know nothing about deafness that they are normal people, except for how they communicate. They use American Sign Language and written English, instead of speaking. They were pleased to learn that one of their deaf colleagues shared the "My Deaf Family" video with his racquetball players and that it opened up a whole discussion about deafness versus hearing.

"It was pointed out to us that the hearing viewers would be able to identify with Jared because he speaks their language, Spoken English. Yet, he uses ASL with his parents and others in his home environment. I thought he did very well [in the video] and am very proud of him," said Bourne-Firl.

While happy with the attention the pilot episode is getting, Bourne-Firl does have a complaint: "The pilot was way too short, just a sampling. The crew has probably 16 hours of footage. But, everything was cut into a nine-minute video for the purpose of showing to the TV networks. There's so much more to those clips."

Richard Medugno is a freelance writer based in Fremont. His work has been published in the Tri-City Voice and various other publications. He has also authored a Gallaudet University Press book titled, Deaf Daughter, Hearing Father.

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