asl, deaf culture, Personal, Post-Activation, Post-Surgery, Research Studies

Heather Artinian: A Role Model For Both the Deaf and Hearing Worlds


Video Credits: TEDx Talks

Today I watched Heather Artinian’s Georgetown TEDxGeorgetown Talk, “Not the Hearing or Deaf World.” Heather Artinian was the star of the popular documentary Sound and Fury and its sequel, Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later. As the daughter of two Deaf parents, Heather grew up in Deaf culture and was taught to speak with ASL from an early age. Some of her other family members, like her cousin, were also deaf. However, they supported and got a cochlear implant (or two, not entirely sure, to be honest). While Heather supported Deaf culture and was proud of her cultural heritage, she also had many hearing friends and was eager to be a part of the hearing world. At the mere age of 5, Heather knew that she wanted a cochlear implant.

However, her parents were not fully supportive of her decision. Instead of allowing her to get the cochlear implant, the family moved to Maryland, which has many more Deaf individuals than her hometown in New York did. They lived there for about three or four years until her Mom got very sick and had to go back home to New York. During her time in Maryland, Heather grew up in a comfortable Deaf environment where she was taught at a Deaf school, and ASL was her primary language.

When Heather returned to New York, ASL was no longer the norm and doing the simplest things like trying to order food from a restaurant was difficult and frustrating for her and her family. Heather wanted to communicate with her hearing friends and be a part of their world. Heather desired to be a part of their world, and she once again longed for a cochlear implant, and this time her family didn’t fight her on it – they allowed her to get her first cochlear implant when she was 9.

Where is Heather Artinian Now?

Heather has since gone bilateral, and she is doing very well. In 2013 she gave a TED talk at Georgetown University where she focused on bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds. Heather isn’t concerned about being in either the hearing or the deaf world – she wants to be in the Heather world, which is a little bit of each world.

Heather earned her Bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Georgetown University in 2015, and in 2018 she earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Harvard Law. Most recently, she has been working as an attorney at Latham & Watkins’ law firm in Washington, D.C., where she focuses on White Collar Defense & Investigations, Litigation & Trial Practice, and the False Claims Act.

Why I Can Relate to Heather Artinian’s Story

Watching Heather’s TED Talk honestly made me think about my own life and where I am with always having lived in the hearing world and now wanting to learn ASL. People think it’s weird that I never learned ASL and never belonged to Deaf culture, but I didn’t know about it since everyone I know is from the hearing world, so it makes sense that I would want to be a part of that world. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for not belonging to Deaf culture. I’ve had people in a roundabout way also say that I’ve turned my back on my own culture or I don’t even know who I am or am supposed to be since I’m so out of tune with Deaf culture. Then there’s another part of me that wonders if I’m doing a disservice by wanting to learn ASL. Is this offensive to the Deaf community? I went my entire life trying to fit into the hearing world, and I think being able to hear now through my bilateral cochlear implants is the greatest thing ever. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling to comprehend that some people wouldn’t want to hear even if they can with cochlear implants, and yet here I am after going bilateral, wanting to learn ASL and join in the Deaf world. Is this okay, or is this cultural appropriation? Have I’ve been missing out on a significant portion of my life by not belonging to this culture that I maybe should have been born into? Has my entire life been a mistake for choosing not to belong to this culture? There are so many questions I don’t and may never have the answers to.

Why I (Still) Want to Learn ASL

Why do I want to learn ASL, and why now? Maybe it is because I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I want to join in with Deaf culture or maybe I just don’t know yet, but I want to see what is there. That doesn’t mean that I will go against or abandon the hearing world I worked so hard to get into. It means that whereas Heather wants to live in the Heather world, I want to live in the Kimberly world. I want the best of both worlds. I don’t want it to be a hearing world and deaf world – I want it just to be one world where everyone can co-exist.

I loved Heather’s TED Talk. I think she is a brilliant woman, and what she says makes sense. She doesn’t just reject the hearing world how some Deaf individuals do (I’m looking at you, Mark Drolsbaugh); she embraces it. Heather wants to make the best future for herself, and she knows that in order to do that, she needs to learn to adapt to the world around her, and the world around her is primarily hearing. However, Heather didn’t forget where she came from. She was never about abandoning Deaf culture. I do get the impression she prefers the hearing world hence why she chose to live with her grandparents, attend a hearing school, and notably didn’t sign during her presentation, but it will always be a part of her and something she is proud of. Heather successfully balances both worlds to create one universal world that makes her who she is – Heather Artinian. I think we can learn a lot from her, and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.

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