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By Michelle Sullivan, Columbus Monthly
summarized by Rachel Cain, staff writer

When business is booming at Keepsake Theme Quilts, employees find their hands are so busy that they barely have time to chat with one another. All the quilters are intently focusing on their projects, working on transforming their customers’ old T-shirts into unique and beautiful hand-sewn quilts. When they get a quick minute, though, they rest their hands from their work and carry out their conversations in ASL (American Sign Language). Although Keepsake Theme Quilts, located in Columbus, Ohio, is well-known for its craft, perhaps even more remarkable is that almost every single one of their employees is deaf.

Meredith Crane founded Keepsake Theme Quilts in 1999 to support her nonprofit organization “Deaf Initiatives.” This quilt shop, which is also a nonprofit, is committed to providing a work environment suited for deaf employees. It features a full staff of 23 deaf employees and two certified ASL interpreters, who help the deaf employees to communicate with their customers. The workers at Keepsake Theme Quilts have devised their own system to accommodate the needs of their staff members. For instance, they label each project with a distinctive word, such as “butterfly,” rather than a complex order number. That way, when the employees want to discuss a particular project, they simply have to sign its name rather than a long string of numbers. Additionally, instructions are drawn instead of written. ASL, like any other language, does not translate directly into English. The drawn instructions help the deaf workers to understand the requirements for each particular task.

Keepsake Theme Quilts provides a sense of community for its workers. They enjoy being in a location where they feel comfortable and can easily communicate with those around them. Meredith Crane says she wanted to create an environment where her employees could feel empowered. She says, “I think that everybody needs to open their minds to what people with challenges can do with their lives.”

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