Algonquin Area Public Library begins new diversity program series with deaf sensitivity training

Zaineb "Zee" Abdullah, Vice President of Deaf Planet Soul, conducts a deaf sensitivity training at Algonquin Public Library's main branch off Harnish Drive on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

Signing the word computer involves making a circular hand motion, a reference to the floppy disks and large circular machinery inside computers that marked computers when American Sign Language was developed decades ago.

It was one of a few key library terms Zaineb Abdullah, vice president of Chicago-based Deaf Planet Soul, taught during a program Tuesday evening, part of a new initiative by the Algonquin Area Public LIbrary to recognize diverse cultures in the community, Adult Services Programming Specialist Kate Cundiff said.

Two back-to-back sessions included teaching the ASL alphabet to children, followed by a presentation by Abdullah on current challenges for the deaf community and what local municipalities – and libraries – can do to help.

“There’s deaf people in every community, so why not bring that awareness to Algonquin?” Cundiff said.

Attendees practice sign language during a deaf sensitivity training at Algonquin Public Library's main branch off Harnish Drive on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.

The library was an apt setting for deaf sensitivity training because of low literacy rates among the deaf community, said Abdullah, who became deaf when she was 20 a decade ago. In addition to her role with Deaf Planet Soul, Abdullah also works as a behavior analyst for kids who are deaf, including some who have autism.

“We have never developed a system of teaching deaf children how to read fluently,” Abdullah said. “So this is a massive massive issue in our community right now.”

In addition, nearly three-quarters of deaf adults are unemployed or underemployed, Abdullah said, due to a continued stigma against hiring deaf employees or a fear that it will be difficult or uncomfortable to work with them.

“Deaf adults have spent their entire lives figuring out how to communicate with hearing people,” Abdullah said. “If you wait just a second, they’ll figure out how to talk to you, they’ll pull out their phone or a pad of paper. Don’t be afraid, just give folks a minute.”

Abdullah also encouraged people to try to attend deaf-centric events or check out media that centers around deaf subjects – with the one exception of music videos on TikTok, which Abdullah said often include incorrect ASL and are “terribly done.”

Several attendees said afterwards they found the session very valuable.

Algonquin resident Anne Shahbaz, who is learning sign language, said she found the statistics around difficult dynamic between parents and deaf kids was something she hadn’t previously known much about.

“Hopefully we’ll be able o do this again in the future,” Cundiff said. “It’s not talked about enough.”