The speech and hearing-impaired may not be able to enjoy the music that we do, they may not be able to express the taste of a dish in as many words as we do, but they can certainly express it, in their own way. Their vocabulary seems limited but not their emotions. However, if you witness a video call where the communication happens only in sign language, you would not say their vocabulary is limited. With some support they can communicate well with everyone.
Taking note of the need to support the speech and hearing-impaired, restaurants are not hesitating to hiring them now. To make communication easier between customers and staff, new, simple menus and communication books have been created.
Also at such restaurants that are served entirely by staff who are speech and hearing-impaired, the silence all around is a change from the usual pipe music.
Many such places have come up in various cities, to overwhelming response. Talking Hands in Hyderabad for instance, is managed entirely by speech and hearing-impaired staff. Every visit to the place begins with a crash course on sign language. For ease of visitors there are communication tools in the form of flash cards and books to be used directly or as reference for signs to communicate with the staff. Designed in the most simple way, the staff’s reaction at seeing others learn their ‘language’ gives them a lot of joy. From personal experience I have also seen them getting eager to teach, not minding having to teach over and over again.
Anju Khemani who devised these booklets and cards for Talking Hands feels these tools are the need of the hour. She says it is a small step in making customers and servers comfortable with their communication. “The booklets and cards could be of use to a speech and hearing-impaired customer to communicate with at places which don’t hire speech and hearing-impaired staff,” says Anju Khenami who works closely with an NGO to help theese differently abled to find employment and device communication tools. The flash cards are a very helpful tool also because sign languages vary from country to country.
All across India restaurants like Mirchi and Mime as well as Echos voice the same thoughts as Anju. All these restaurants, in their bid to be inclusive and sensitive, perceive the need for a tool to facilitate better communication.
At SodaBottleOpenerwal too, (a unit of Olive bar and kitchen), the same process follows; speech and hearing-impaired staff are hired through several NGOs. The idea of hiring them is to make them independent and confident of looking forward to lead a life like all of us. “They aren’t any different, only their tool to communicate is. If we use words, they use sign. It should be just treated as a new medium to communicate,” says Mohit Balachandran, head of business development at Olive bar and kitchen.
Olive had started hiring people with this impairment about 18 months back and regularly keeps updating the programme the staff have enrolled in. “We have designed the communication booklets with our NGO partners. We kept the booklets quirky to meet our informal dining ambience,” adds Mohit.
In the city, other hotels like Lemon Tree and QSRs like KFC earlier regularly hired speech and hearing-impaired staff.