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"...Words are here - on top. What's under them, their what's important."
– Deanna Troi, interpreting Riva's signing, 2365 ("Loud As A Whisper")

Riva was a famed mediator from the planet Ramatis III. He was a member of the ruling family on Ramatis, all of whom shared a genetic condition that rendered them deaf and mute. To communicate, Riva used a chorus of telepathic aides who spoke for him. The trio of telepaths represented different aspects of Riva: the "Scholar/Artist", the "Warrior/Adonis", and "Balance" who held the other two together. Riva was well known for mediating several treaties between the Federation and Klingon Empire; in fact, before Riva, there was no Klingon word for "peace-maker".

According to the script for the episode, Riva did not read or write, and outside of his Chorus, his only way of communicating was via sign language which he learned in the Plaeties star system.

In 2365, he was to negotiate an end to hostilities on Solais V. During the first meeting his Chorus was killed by those who did not wish peace. With his normal means of communication gone, Riva felt he could not complete his mission. However, after some convincing by Deanna Troi, and with the help of the USS Enterprise-D, he decided to bring the warring sides together and teach them sign language, which would help bond the factions. He stayed on Solais V to begin the process of peace. (TNG: "Loud As A Whisper")

Riva was played by Howie Seago, who is deaf in real life. He petitioned the producers to create a show about deaf people to help dispel untrue and prejudiced myths about them. In the first draft, Riva learned to speak overnight after a mechanical translator he used to communicate with his chorus failed. Seago suggested the ending used in the finished episode. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 73)
According to the episode's script, Riva was "around thirty years old" in 2365, placing his birth in or around 2335.
Furthermore, according to the script, Riva's name was pronounced as "REE-va".

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