Deaf Initiatives’ Keepsake Theme Quilts is a social enterprise that provides meaningful employment opportunities for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Keepsake Theme Quilts Gives Deaf People an Opportunity to Contribute Their Skills
Since 1999 Deaf Initiatives has sought to build an environment where deaf individuals can thrive. With its Keepsake Theme Quilts (KTQ) social enterprise, that is exactly what the Columbus-based nonprofit is accomplishing.
Founder and Executive Director Meredith Crane poses the question: “Do you know or work closely with anyone who is deaf? Can you imagine the obstacles deaf individuals face in day-to-day communication in a world that does not typically know how to respond to those challenges?” Crane notes that as many as 70 percent of deaf individuals are unemployed. Through KTQ, Deaf Initiatives seeks to offer deaf young adults job training and on-the-job experience.
Crane’s close personal relationships with members of the deaf community, and her ardent desire for them to have opportunities to meaningfully employ their capabilities, were her driving motivations for establishing Deaf Initiatives. It is also why Deaf Initiatives seeks to reach out to the community at large and raise awareness of the often untapped potential of deaf individuals—as well as the challenges they face in achieving that potential. Deaf Initiatives provides people with hearing loss both a voice and an opportunity.
The KTQ enterprise hires, trains, and employs deaf young adults to make and sell “T-shirt” quilts. These are quilts stitched out of T-shirt cutouts. It was a simple yet promising idea that Crane says she jumped upon while standing on the sidelines of her child’s soccer game. She thought it particularly fitting to get deaf individuals involved in such a tactile project. It would help them to gain valuable work experience while also enabling Deaf Initiatives to market a desirable commodity to the community.
Currently KTQ employs 25 adults between 16 and 65 years of age, only two of whom are not deaf. Workers gain exposure to a small manufacturing and sales business where they participate in product development and gain experience with inventory control, operation of tools and equipment, data entry/computer skills, and customer relations. Employees are well-versed in sign language and aware of each other’s challenges. Without the expectation of verbal communication, and the means to complete necessary tasks apart from it, communication is no longer an insurmountable obstacle for these individuals to successfully function in the work environment.
Deaf Initiatives has seen a steady increase in its quilt sales over the past few years: 33% growth in 2011 and 26% in 2012. KTQ has also been able to expand its equipment and workspace facility. The production center utilizes large, open rooms that are essential when using sign language and assistive technology to help facilitate communication among the deaf and the hearing workers.
KTC’s profits help fund various services to deaf young adults in the community, such as visits to college campuses and communications training.