Junior Sara Soltani never imagined a comment her mother left on a Hillary Clinton blog post would lead to them both starring in a seven-minute campaign video for the Democratic presidential nominee.
Soltani’s mother, Martha, left the comment in August to tell people that the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that Clinton helped push through Congress in the 1990s helped her family afford cochlear implants for Sara, who was born deaf. Clinton’s campaign contacted Martha Soltani a few weeks later to ask the family to be featured in a video.
Sara Soltani said her family hopes the video can be an inspiration to other families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Our main goal making the video was not to promote the campaign but to reach and connect with those families who have deaf or hard-of-hearing children and let them know that it is possible to be successful,” Soltani said. “Some of them worried about their speech or their grammar or how they can connect with the hearing world. We kind of wanted to give them a sense of hope.”
The video, which was released Oct. 21 and has been retweeted more than 4,000 times, features Martha Soltani telling the story of realizing her daughter was deaf and the early intervention and therapy Sara went through to learn how to speak – made possible by the program Clinton supported.
Sara Soltani is featured in the last third of the video talking about the obstacles she’s overcome to get to college.
“I was very nervous,” Soltani said. “It was nerve-wracking – the camera just staring at me – but after about twenty minutes you get used to it.”
After filming the video, Soltani and her family were invited to the second presidential debate in St. Louis and a North Carolina rally in September where Soltani met Clinton.
Soltani said Clinton was “very sweet” and mentioned the photo she’d seen of Soltani at her high school graduation, in which her graduation cap is decorated with GW’s logo.
Soltani, an archaeology major, said teachers and fellow students have often doubted her potential to succeed with a disability. But with a cochlear implant in her right ear and a hearing aid in her left, Soltani said she can hear about 60 percent of language in conversations and relies on lipreading the rest.
“At the public high school I went to I was told I’d never be able to get into a good school because of my disability,” Soltani said. “Once I applied to GW it was assumed that I wouldn’t get in, and once I did get in, people were surprised, and they didn’t believe me at first.”
Soltani’s journey at GW began in her junior year of high school when she did a general interest interview to learn more about the University. She connected with Eric Cline, a professor of anthropology, who invited her on an excavation in Israel with current students that summer. Since then, Soltani has gone on two more trips with the archeology department.
Cline said Soltani declared her major within 48 hours of being on campus her freshman year.
“She seems just like your usual GW student, and yet when you know her backstory she’s incredibly impressive,” Cline said.
Administrators have been more accommodating to her disability needs than her public high school teachers were, Soltani said. She has a service dog, a miniature poodle named Abu, who she takes to classes. People at GW take Soltani seriously, and some students don’t even realize she has a disability, she said.
“Some people have no idea and once they learn they kind of view disabilities in a whole new light. I like to encourage that in them,” Soltani said. “If they haven’t socialized with anyone with a disability, they can with me and get this whole new idea of what it’s like and ask those questions they’ve always wanted to ask.”
Since the video was released, students have approached Soltani on the street to tell her it was inspiring. She said families have reached out to her and her mom asking for advice on handling hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Soltani has mailed in her ballot already and is looking forward to being in the District for inauguration, she said.
“I have no idea what’s to come,” Soltani said. “We’re just taking what comes.”