Setting Souls Free: DeafCan Mentorship for Deaf-Autistic Adults

by | Apr 28, 2023 | Heartivist Of The Week

It is estimated that around 2,500 million people will have a certain degree of hearing loss by 2050, World Health Organization.

We do have a future as long as we still have people committed to being a friend to those in need”, Zaineb Al-Abdulla, founder of Deaf Planet Soul.

Our soul is that vast and wonderful universe which resides in each of us; beyond our flesh and blood, it is that radiant shimmer that sparkles behind our eyes, an intertwined net of thoughts, experiences and feelings longing to expand outside ourselves to converge with others, yearning to be communicated. Aristotle defined us as social beings by nature and it is true because it is in the sharing of ourselves that we can set our soul free and experience joy. 

Communication is “the mechanism through which human relations exist and develop”, stated the American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in his book Social Organization over a century ago, adding that “it is through communication that we get our higher development”, a concept that remains true to our days. But for some, the inability to communicate has alienated their spirit in an isle of loneliness. Something that didn’t go unseen by Zaineb Al-Abdulla.

The Capital D

Zaineb Al-Abdulla is a sociologist, special educator, behavioral analyst and human rights advocate from Chicago, Illinois. When she was a teenager she dreamt of becoming a journalist but life had other plans for her. As she began losing her hearing unexpectedly, Zaineb realized that her plans had to change.

“I was really devastated at first. I felt kind of lost. I didn’t know any sign language and I had no skills. I saw myself like a hearing person with bad ears, instead of a deaf person who could learn those skills. Later I learned that there is also a huge deaf world that you can be a part of, and that is what got me refocused to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” recalls Zaineb, as she explains that being a “Little d deaf” is merely having a hearing disability but “Capital D deaf” is becoming an active part of the deaf community to experience life at its fullest possible.

Statistics on hearing disabilities

Hearing disabilities are much more common than what we often think. Actually the World Health Organization stated that around 2.5 billion people worldwide will have a certain degree of hearing loss by 2050. This is an issue that affects both old and young people because, while 25% of people over 60 have disabling hearing loss, 1 billion young people might lose their hearing due to unsafe hearing practices.

In fact, in the United States 1 out of 8 people 12 years and older have a certain hearing loss in both ears. While 2 out of 3 in every 1,000 children are born with a certain degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Isolation of Deaf Adults in Group Homes

After Zaineb lost her hearing, she met the person who has been her biggest inspiration, Gregory Perez. He taught her how to sign and encouraged her to obtain a hearing aid. Zaineb had worked at a school for deaf children and later started working at group homes for adults with cognitive disabilities, some of them who are also deaf and hard of hearing.

“I realized that most adults who live in group homes don’t leave the house, they don’t do things that they like. They just go to a workshop during the day, which is where they sit and do factory work for a couple of cents an hour because they don’t even get paid the regular wage. It’s a really sad life to live,” explains Zaineb.

And it was in those group homes where Zaineb met a man in his 40’s who had been living there for 17 years. Besides being autistic, he had a hearing and speaking disability. He lived in complete isolation – no one to communicate with – holding on to his captive soul drifting in a sea of loneliness.  

“I was told that he was completely non verbal, that he had no language skills. But I once signed to him and he signed back,” remembers Zaineb, joyfully. “He knew how to communicate but he wasn’t around anybody else who could sign. He was very slow to communicate at first but as he started to sign more I realized he had a full language, just nobody to speak with. So I started taking him with me to events in the community where there were a lot of deaf people and as soon as he began communicating his behavior changed, he was able to enjoy life a little bit more.”

Deaf Planet Soul

This experience motivated Zaineb to create a non-profit organization called Deaf Planet Soul, along with other friends from the deaf community to make a difference in the lives of adults with hearing disabilities living in group homes, giving them the possibility to share their thoughts, experiences and feelings, to set their souls free

Every two weeks, about 7 mentors and other volunteers take deaf adults from group homes to engage in different fun activities in the community as part of their programs. They also have a job training program where they take deaf adults from group homes to practice job skills and they get paid properly. And the third program will be a pop up coffee shop where deaf adults from group homes will be attending to real clients so they practice real job skills and the community gets to interact with people with disabilities.

Currently, there are more people trying to get into the Deaf Planet Soul programs as their activities are becoming better known through their web page and social media. But all of their activities are founded by mentors or volunteers, like Zaineb who makes and sells jewelry at pop up markets.

“Finances are hard, we have many clients who want to go on all the outings but we can’t afford it, especially due to transportation costs. So that is a big challenge as well as time because we are all volunteers in the organization, we don’t get paid and we all have our day jobs, so we are trying to do all of this and not go broke,” says Zaineb, remembering how she applied to The Pollination Project in order to have funds for the Pop Up Coffee Shop. “When I saw the mail of acceptance I jumped for joy. I did a facetime with my whole team and I told them everything. They were all so excited. It was a very happy moment.”

The funds from The Pollination Project will allow Deaf Planet Soul to buy food and cleaning supplies as well as access transportation in order to have weekly Pop Up Coffee Shops for 5 months from 10 am to 6 pm with an expected attendance of 100 people per session.

“I want people to know how meaningful this funding is,” says Zaineb. “To  be able to do this type of program with this support really means so much. To whoever donates to The Pollination Project to make this happen, a huge thank you from our community. It’s completely amazing.”

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