Deaf People on Television in the Eighties

Cast of Little House on the Prairie
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

In the '80s, sign language was showcased more, and there were efforts made to portray deaf people as "regular people." (In the list below, actors who are known to be deaf are indicated with an asterik [*].)

The eighties also saw a landmark 1985 Hallmark television movie focused on deafness, Love is Never Silent, with Phyllis Frelich* and Ed Waterstreet*. There was also a regular deaf character in a family on a short-lived television program that aired in the summer of 1983, The Family Tree, in which the deaf boy's role was acted by Jonathan Hall Kovacs*.

'80s Television Appearances

  • Little House on the Prairie "Silent Promises" (January 1980) - deaf boy (Alban Branton) who does not know sign language learns it. Lou Fant also appears
  • Happy Days "Allison" (February 1980) - Fonzie falls for a deaf girl (Linda Bove) briefly and attempts to learn sign language
  • Barney Miller "Stormy Weather" (February 1981) - deaf prostitute (Phyllis Frelich)
  • Bosom Buddies "Reunion" (1981) - deaf girl (Nanci Kendall) at a high school reunion
  • CHIPS "Silent Partner" (February 1982) - a deaf man is mistaken for a drunken driver. (Frances Ripplinger, Saul Brandt)
  • Little House on the Prairie "The Wild Boy" (November 1982) - Jon Kovacs
  • Little House on the Prairie "Hello and Goodbye" (March 1983) - Jon Kovacs
  • Voyagers "Barriers of Sound" (June 1983) - Alexander Graham Bell's future deaf wife appears.
  • Hill Street Blues "Ratman and Bobbin" (January 1984) - a deaf child (Ronald Carter)
  • St. Elsewhere "Hearing" (February 1984) - deaf employee (Freda Norman)
  • Cagney and Lacey "Baby Broker" (April 1984) - a deaf baby
  • Gimme a Break "Earthquake" (February 1985) - deaf woman
  • Airwolf "Jennie" (November 1985) - group of hearing impaired kids (Jon Kovacs)
  • Magnum, PI "A Picture is Worth" (October 1986) - a deaf woman witness
  • Spenser: For Hire "When Silence Speaks" (February 1986) - deaf newspaper columnist (Phyllis Frelich)
  • Macgyver "Silent World" (November 1986) - Mary Beth Barber (Miss Deaf America, 1980)
  • Cagney and Lacey "Right to Remain Silent" (March 1987) - deaf murder suspect (Terrylene)
  • Small Wonder "I Hear You" (October 1987) - deaf boy (Scooter Stevens)
  • High Mountain Rangers (February 1988) - group of deaf children attacked by a bear
  • Family Ties "A Sign of the Times" (March 1988) - deaf boy classmate
  • Hunter "Death Signs" (March 1988) - deaf man killed (Howie Seago, Mary Vreeland, David Balacater, Catherine Richardson)
  • Punky Brewster "What's Your Sign" (May 1988) - deaf girl scout
  • A Country Practice (Australia) "Taking a Chance" (1989) - deaf stranger
  • Man Called Hawk "Hear No Evil" (February 1989) - Troy Kotsur, William Byrd, Warren Snipe
  • The Equalizer "Silent Fury" (March 1989) - crimes against the deaf community. Howie Seago.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation "Loud as a Whisper" (January 1989) - deaf mediator (Howie Seago)

The late 80s on television generally belonged to Terrylene, who had at least five appearances on Beauty and the Beast, making her a de facto star on the show. The show had a whole episode devoted to the deaf culture in which they dealt with a deaf gang of children led by an angry young deaf man who had pennies in ears as a sign of rebellion; the main character Vincent taught a young deaf boy who lived down below sign language and tried to keep him from joining the gang."