Law And Order's Camryn Manheim Talks Why Using Sign Language In A Recent Episode Was 'Really Meaningful' For Her

Camryn Manheim as Lt. Kate Dixon in Law and Order
(Image credit: NBC)

Law & Order is going strong in NBC’s primetime lineup after returning for a revival back in February, and the history-making Season 22 has included an episode that was “really meaningful” for actress Camryn Manheim, who plays Lt. Kate Dixon. A young girl was brought into the precinct when the team was trying to identify a suspect in the “Camouflage” episode that aired on October 6, and Dixon was able to use American Sign Language to communicate with her. Network television doesn’t often incorporate ASL into storylines, and Manheim opened up about what it meant to her, and her role in making it happen on the long-running drama.

Lt. Dixon stepped up to interview the young girl, and revealed that she knows ASL because her son is deaf. According to Camryn Manheim (who actually played more than one Law & Order character before landing her series regular role) while speaking to E! News, she specifically requested that the show include deaf characters. Manheim shared:

It was really meaningful for me. I had asked them to incorporate some deaf characters, and I know that SVU is also doing a storyline with some deaf characters. We need to have disabled people all over the place; people in wheelchairs and blind people and people who have cerebral palsy and deaf people. People should be able to look on television and see themselves, a role model, to be emulated on the screen.

The inclusion of the young girl not only worked to incorporate ASL, but also shed some light on Dixon as a character, which doesn’t happen every week in a show as procedural as Law & Order. Manheim shared that she originally learned ASL herself simply because she failed French and Spanish in high school, and ASL would help her get into college. 

Now, decades later, she helped bring ASL to a very large platform with Law & Order, and SVU viewers can evidently count on the same. Learning sign language also led to a friendship with Marlee Matlin, who became the first deaf actor to win an Academy Award, for her role in the 1986 drama film Children of a Lesser God, and was a member of the cast of Coda, which won the Best Picture Oscar earlier this year. Matlin already appeared in two episodes of SVU many years ago; could she appear on Law & Order as well? 

That would be a very big casting for the NBC procedural, but whether or not Marlee Matlin appears, Camryn Manheim’s request for deaf characters on Law & Order already produced results. The young girl’s role also didn’t revolve around her communication via ASL, so Law & Order didn’t use the character to make “Camouflage” into a very special episode about sign language. 

“Camouflage” was definitely a good start, and will perhaps lead to more of Law & Order featuring – to quote Camryn Manehim – ”disabled people all over the place” for viewers. This also isn’t the first time in recent years that NBC has showcased a character who communicates via sign language. For one, medical drama New Amsterdam debuted Sandra Mae Frank as deaf surgeon Dr. Wilder in Season 4 and promoted her to series regular status for the current fifth and final season. 

See new episodes of Law & Order on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC, after the drama took a brief break in the 2022 TV schedule. You can also revisit “Camouflage” and other earlier episodes streaming with a Peacock Premium subscription now.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.