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Deaf Actress Shaylee Mansfield Shines in “The Company You Keep”

Shaylee Mansfield wearing headphones in a scene from a new episode of "The Company You Keep"

Credit: ABC/Raymond Liu

Los Angeles, May 1 – A recent study by NRG and Deaf West Theater shows at least 79% of deaf consumers believe that there has been more representation of their community in TV and film compared to a year ago. One actress contributing to this representation across genres is Shaylee Mansfield. At just 14 years of age, Mansfield is quickly becoming a household name and role model for all children.

“I’m grateful to have a platform that will give not only Deaf children, but all children to freely speak up, to fight for what they want, and to be fully themselves even if it is not ‘popular,’” Mansfield said in an interview with RespectAbility.

While many of her roles in the past were for children’s shows, Mansfield’s current role is on ABC’s The Company You Keep. She first guest starred as Ollie in the pilot (February 2023), playing cards with her grandfather.

“My role on The Company You Keep is something I’ve been waiting to do for a while,” Mansfield said. “Like every other actress, I’d like to be given the opportunity to portray other sides that go beyond that. Thanks to the writers and actors, my character Ollie truly pushes my acting skills to the next level.”

Throughout the season, Ollie’s interactions with her family in ASL come across as natural, which makes sense since her family learned sign language with Ollie when she was a toddler. Ollie also has interactions with various characters – including her father returning after 10 years and CIA agent Emma Hill – learning ASL to interact with her.

As ASL is its own language and all too often Deaf individuals are not involved with the writing process, the dialogue may not be fully accurate when it is translated into ASL. In order for the hearing actors to use ASL on set, the show’s Deaf ASL Consultant CJ Jones worked closely with the hearing actors on their signing lines.

Individuals like Jones prepare actors for their dramatic performance of ASL dialogue from scripts that are generally written in the English language, carefully selecting signs and nuances of ASL during the translation process that appropriately reflects the character, tone, and scene. In addition to assisting the Deaf actor with translating lines appropriately, they also work with hearing actors to help them execute signs correctly, which is essential for believability and shows the audience a respect for the ASL language, which is highly valued in the Deaf community.

Mansfield was given the opportunity to “come up with my own ASL translations.” If she ran into an issue with a specific line or word, she would bounce ideas off Jones.

In episode 3, viewers are treated to a scene illustrating a real-life example in mixed Deaf and hearing families. When Ollie’s mom Birdie Nicoletti’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Uncle Charlie (Milo Ventimiglia) have a verbal conversation in front of her without signing, Ollie points out that they are being rude.

“It happened to me (and to other Deaf people) more than it should with my hearing family members,” Mansfield said. “Also, Deaf people are often the ones reminding them to sign. Showing that particular scene hopefully encourages hearing family members to not forget to sign in front a Deaf person.”

As Charlie – or Uncle Charlie to Ollie – finds himself entangled in a variety of triangles as he determines the direction of his life, Ollie finds ways to prove her worth to the family as a growing pre-teen.

“Regardless of how young Ollie is and that she’s a girl and Deaf, nothing stops her from trying to be a part of her family’s business,” Mansfield said. “Ollie’s upfront, a few steps ahead of others, and highly skilled at observing what’s around her without her family or anyone knowing it.”

In Sunday’s most recent episode, viewers were treated to a short moment reminiscent of an episode of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building that was presented in near silence to show the perspective of deaf actor James Caverly. In Episode 9, which aired on ABC on April 30, viewers can hear some muffled sounds, imitating what Ollie is experiencing while the adults speak about a new predicament. Ollie bangs the table to get her family’s attention, wanting to learn about the new job. Her mom and uncle encourage her to go back to her homework, but they recognize that Ollie is growing up and wants to be more involved. Ultimately, Ollie is welcomed into the family business.

“When I read the pilot script, I wrote down questions for Julia Cohen (showrunner) and Milo to figure out Ollie’s backstory as well as her relationship with the Nicoletti family,” Mansfield said. “I suggested the idea of Ollie becoming a con artist. It’s obvious that it runs deep in the Nicoletti family so why wouldn’t Ollie be one? Fast forward to filming several episodes of Season 1, Julia eagerly pulled me aside telling me that Ollie was gonna do a con job in episode 9. The reaction I had with Julia in real life pretty much played out in the scene when Ollie officially became a part of the family con business. Not only Ollie’s one of the Nicolettis, but also one of them. My voice is seen and heard by everyone on this production.”

Mansfield got her start as a Deaf YouTuber, starring in ASL Nook from 2013-2019 in more than 50 episodes, helping families and children worldwide learn American Sign Language (ASL). Since then, she has starred in unscripted (A&E’s Deaf Out Loud) and scripted television series (SundanceTV’s This Close and Disney Channel’s Bunk’d), as well as feature-length films (Disney+’s Noelle and Netflix’s Feel the Beat).

More recently, DreamWorks Animations’ Madagascar: A Little Wild featured a young girl named and modeled after Mansfield who was animated by using a video reference of her performing the role. In what is possibly a first for Deaf performers, she is credited alongside the audible voice actors for her sign over performance in the episode “Gloria’s Got ‘Em All.”

In her current role, the character of Ollie is treated like any teenage girl would in this situation, and her deafness is not considered a deficit nor an asset, but simply a fact of life. In this way, being Deaf is 100% normalized to viewers who only know about Deaf individuals from media.

“I love that the audience is rooting for Ollie,” Mansfield added. “Some predicted she’ll take over the con business! That Ollie can take care of herself. A few even suggested doing an episode from Ollie’s perspective. This is a huge deal because they see Ollie bringing her own strength and intelligence to the show. That Ollie is so much more than just a Deaf character.”

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email

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