On how she became involved with the show, Variety reports that Stern and Grey’s showrunner, Krista Vernoff, met on a 2019 Television Academy Foundation panel about representing disabilities in storytelling.
“We just got to talking backstage, and she was talking about the lack of work, even though she’s put her own incredible show on the air,” Vernoff told Variety. “And I was so smitten with her.”
Vernoff goes on to say she offered Stern the role of a “Grey’s Anatomy” doctor on the spot.
“I think having a deaf doctor on a show like this could change, even save lives,” Stern told ET. ” But I think what’s most incredible about it is the level of collaboration that happened behind the scenes in order to make this come to life.”
Executive story editor, Tameson Duffy, also pointed out that they chose not to make the other characters react wildly to Riley’s deafness. She told Paste Magazine, “she is a doctor who happens to be deaf. The focus isn’t on her being deaf … That’s how we like to handle it on ‘Grey’s.’ It isn’t that someone is different or diverse. That just is the reality of the world.”
“She is a doctor who happens to be deaf. The focus isn’t on her being deaf.”
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Stern told ET that the producers at “Grey’s” also reached out to several other deaf doctors to make sure that what they were writing was accurate.
Audience reactions to the introduction of Dr. Riley have mostly been positive and applaud Stern’s historic debut.
Although some viewers, including Lisa Goldstein, a writer for Hearing Like Me, expressed concerns with the way she communicates on the show, as she both speaks and uses sign language.
“At one point, she was fingerspelling long, complicated words. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say them?” Goldstein asks. “I can see using the interpreter as a supplement if needed, so she doesn’t miss anything, but…”
In one Facebook thread with people with hearing loss discussing the show, many were agreeing with her. One commented, “The average hearing person is going to think (again) that all deaf people speak AND sign.” Another person posted a GIF of Master Chef saying, “I give up!”
Despite the slight discrepancies in Dr. Riley’s performance, one thing is agreeable: Having another deaf actor on primetime TV is a big win for deaf talent!
Stay tuned to see more of Dr. Riley on “Grey’s Anatomy,” which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.