(USA Today)--The deaf community is still buzzing over an unusual sign-language prayer in the season finale of ABC's NYPD Blue. Deaf actor Chond Slick, 26, who wrote the prayer, is seen delivering it in a hospital chapel where Andy Sipowicz pleads with God for his son's health.
In print, the prayer begins "Oh God, please cause deaf people of the world to come together in a beautiful gathering with wonderful flowers and trees. Let them be joined by the hearing people of the world, let life become beautiful for all people," says the actor's father, Darby Slick, brother-in-law of the Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick. But Chond Slick said the prayer in sign language using his own "oratorial" style, his father says.
That style was baffling and upsetting to many members of the deaf community. "What was coming off his hands didn't seem to make any sense," says Darlene Pricket, who works at Gallaudet University, the USA's only higher-education institution for deaf students. "It looked like a bunch of random words just kind of thrown together. The signs were actual signs -- things like 'deaf,' 'ASL,' 'deaf culture,' 'interpreter,' 'come together' -- but they didn't have any structure. They didn't have any meaning .... On a personal level, it bothered me. What a great opportunity it would have been to show that person really signing something, instead of what seemed like just gibberish."
Jack Jason, interpreter for deaf actress Marlee Matlin, agrees. Although American Sign Language syntax is different from English, he says, "there are still parameters which communication in sign must fall into, and unfortunately, the young man's signing did not."
Others accuse the show of taking liberties with the language. "I love the show very much, but Mr. Bochco (co-executive producer Steven Bochco) needs to show some respect for the deaf community," says deaf fan Lisa Siemens. Bochco and other producers were unavailable for comment.
"Would you put a hearing person in there saying a prayer when they weren't really saying a prayer?" asks Cheryl Ringel, also a Gallaudet employee. "It's ridiculous."
Other sign language users say the performance lacked the facial expressions that provide emotional and grammar cues for listeners, and the result was extremely difficult to understand.
Darby Slick says he talked to viewers who understood the prayer, and says stylized dialogue isn't unusual on Blue.