2023 Focus on
People Awards

Adult trailblazers


Zaineb Abdulla

Chicago, IL

Zaineb is the founder of Deaf Defy, a non‑profit that brings sign language, hearing aids and audiological care to children living in refugee camps and areas of conflict around the world. Deaf Defy‑sponsored international medical missions support deaf and hard of hearing pediatric refugees and students displaced by conflict. A behavioral specialist and medical mission leader, Zaineb directs missions that provide advocacy skills, sign language, STEM lessons and audiology (testing/fittings) to pediatric refugees in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. She co‑founded and previously served as Vice President of Deaf Soul Planet, a non‑profit that serves and empowers the Deaf and Hard of Hearing through programming in childhood literacy, women’s self‑defense, job training, business development, social events and more.


Kathleen Dugan

Lunenburg, MA

Kathleen, who began her career in biotech, found her true calling working on her family’s 25‑acre farm. The work is both hard and rewarding, especially tending to the care and safety of the 15 head of cattle, 6 hogs, 50 chickens and dozen turkeys who populate the farm. Kathleen is determined that her hearing loss will not prevent her from hearing the animals when they call out to her for help. A recent incident shows the wisdom of that decision. During heavy rains, she was able to rescue a newborn calf who had wandered away from its mother — thanks to her ability to hear the calf’s distinctive cry. A mother‑and‑child reunion made possible by her new hearing aids!


Abby Silbaugh

Chicago, IL

Abby is a shining example of someone who doesn’t view hearing loss as an obstacle to her aspirations. She believes that her hearing loss gives her insight into the unique needs of groups of people who need the specialized care and advances in technology that she continues to work on in the extremely selective PhD program in Neurobiology at the University of Chicago. Beyond her demanding academic schedule, Abby is also deeply engaged in her community. She spends hundreds of hours each year tutoring Chicago’s inner-city children receiving long‑term care in area hospitals. She also volunteers in the UChicago ENT and Neurosurgery departments doing clinical work and in the “Disability and Inclusion @ UChicago” initiative.

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