Deaf Student With Cochlear Implant Argues for Bridging Two Worlds
January 6, 2014 – Heather Artinian (C’15), a Georgetown student who was born deaf and didn’t speak intelligibly until the age of 12, is advocating for the hearing impaired and hearing worlds to make peace with one another.
Artinian, a government major from Glen Cove, N.Y., minoring in peace and justice studies, was only 5 when she began asking her deaf parents if she could get a hearing device, but her parents didn’t agree to it until after her ninth birthday.
The Glen Cove, N.Y., native became the symbol of a controversial debate between the two communities that was chronicled in the documentary film Sound and Fury (2000) by Josh Aronson.
War of the Worlds
“It was a very contentious issue – give your child hearing or don’t give your child hearing,” says Artinian, also a Baker scholar at Georgetown.
The film details the struggle her parents went through in making their decision to initially forgo the implant.
The hearing community criticized Artinian’s parents after they initially decided against the implant. When they changed their minds, the deaf community gave them grief.
The latter tension was captured in Aronson’s sequel Sound and Fury: Six Years Later (2006).
Atrinian recently described how important it is for the hearing and deaf worlds to reach out to each other in a TEDxGeorgetown talk on campus.
The debate, she says, is complicated and different for each family.
“It’s always about the parents wanting to relate to their child,” explains Artinian, who wants to go to law school and dreams of becoming a U.S. Supreme Court Justice one day.
After she received the implant, her doctor said it was unlikely she would gain significant speech and hearing skills. But Artinian, who learned sign language as a baby, was determined to join the hearing world without leaving the deaf world behind.
“I was very diligent about going to speech therapy and trying hard,” she says. “It took me three years before I could be understandable and understand others.”
She credits a high school mentor with teaching her professional skills, such as public speaking and marketing, while needed to handle the notoriety that came with the films.
Without the movie, there would be a lot of kids who wouldn’t have the implant and a lot of kids who wouldn’t have learned sign language.”
—Heather Artinian (C'15)
“After high school, I [realized I] didn’t have to be in the hearing world,” she says in the TEDx speech. “[And] I didn’t have to be in the deaf world. I could just stay in the middle and be in the Heather world.”
Coming to Georgetown
It took only two college tours – the other was at an Ivy League university – for Artinian to choose Georgetown.
"From the second I stepped foot on campus, I fell in love," she says. "After hearing about cura personalis, women and men for others, and seeing the diversity on campus, I really felt like this was a school that would not only accept me for who I am, but a school where I could ... get an excellent education [and] grow as a person while serving others."
She hopes her Georgetown TED talk results in people better understanding “why you should build bridges between the worlds of your lives.”
Fourteen years after the first film, she is still asked to tell her story at schools and universities.
“Without the movie, there would be a lot of kids who wouldn’t have the implant and a lot of kids who wouldn’t have learned sign language,” she says.
As a sophomore at Georgetown, Artinian co-founded Girls For Change, a professional development program for high school girls.
“I thought I should give back what I had been given in high school,” she explains.
Artinian started the program at Anacostia High School, in southeast Washington, D.C. She and co-founder Elizabeth McCarthy-Alfano (B’15) use business case studies to teach public speaking, marketing and public relations.
Telling Her Story
“In Anacostia, most of [the girls] go directly into the working world, and I would want them to have some set of business skills to take with them wherever they go,” she says.
The program is designed to build confidence and teach the girls learn how to connect with others – a skill she says she learned while finding her place in the hearing and deaf communities.
“The idea of bridging worlds is not new, I know,” she says. “It’s not some crazy idea I came up with. But I think [that telling] my personal story shows that it has been done and it can be done. And that helps people be more open-minded and accepting.”