After my trip to Nepal, I continue to think about an impactful experience I had in a restaurant in Kathmandu. It has shifted my thinking on how important on how to create a more inclusive workspace for differently-abled people.
The challenges of people who have disabilities
Individuals with disabilities face more challenges and disadvantages compared to those with no disabilities. School is more challenging, (no matter how many accommodations), your dream job can be out of reach, and there is social stigma too. Today I want to talk about one of the many struggles that people with disabilities may encounter: employment. While in Nepal, I stumbled upon a restaurant in Kathmandu that caught my attention. It mostly employs hearing impaired waiting staff. But before I tell you about my experience, let’s put a few facts on this physical restriction on the table.
A few facts about deaf people
- 466 million people in the world have disabling hearing loss.
- Diseases cause over 30% of hearing loss in children.
- 60% of childhood hearing loss is preventable through public health actions.
- Chronic ear infections are a leading cause of hearing loss.
- In Nepal, one of the main causes of acquired deafness is middle ear infections.
The vast majority of the hearing impaired live in low- and middle-income countries where they often do not have access to appropriate ear and hearing care service.The World Health Organisation
Hearing impaired people in Nepal
Nepal is one of the least developed countries in the world. It is not difficult to imagine how the country is struggling with high numbers of deaf impaired people. By 2004, the prevalence of deafness in Nepal was about 16.6% of the total population (2.71 million). Half of these cases are preventable and the majority of the remaining half are treatable.
Fortunately, there are a few organisations that take care of those in need and offer free exams and treatment. In the meantime, it is important that people who are not cured have a chance of a dignified life. That’s why today I want to acknowledge the social role carried out by a restaurant in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. It is called Sam’s One Tree Cafe and it hires deaf waiters.
Sam’s One Tree Cafe
Style and ambience
This cafe is located in Durbar Marg, where you can find the trendiest restaurants in Kathmandu. Sam’s One Tree Cafe is no exception. It has a terrace, part of it shadowed by the giant tree that emerges from the ground floor. The owner planted this tree back in the ’70s when he had a different business in that same location. To add to this organic feel, the wall showcases a massive mural with drawings of animals and plants.
This bustling and trendy restaurant in Kathmandu employs around 14 hearing-impaired waiters. But the owner of this business also has a bakery chain where they also employ deaf waiters. According to an interview* with the manager of this cafe, the company employs around 150 to 200 hearing impaired.
*I didn’t conduct the interview, I found it on a FB video while trying to learn more about the place.
The dining experience
So, let’s tackle the elephant in the room. How is communication possible when all waiters are deaf and mute? How does it work? Pretty simple, really. For customers, you receive a piece of paper with an explanation of the waiters’ circumstances and the restaurant dynamics. You place your order in that piece of paper and done-deal. The rest of the cafe staff have to take a course on sign language to be able to communicate with the waiters.
Now imagine a busy restaurant in Kathmandu which starts to get loud and waiters have to shout at each other to pass a message. At Sam’s One Tree, this problem doesn’t exist. Waiters communicate with sign language, an interesting dynamic to see. And I truly think that it is an advantage over those who do not speak sign language.
These waiters have proven to be as efficient and professional as anyone else. A little bit of thinking outside the box has transformed their workplace to fit their reality. And their system works for everybody in the venue including other workers and customers. I was left very impressed. On further reflection, that feeling shifted to the embarrassment that more businesses weren’t exploring these types of opportunities. My experience at the cafe made me realize that it really is not that difficult to set-up a business that not only supports but thrives with engaged employees with disabilities.
Whether it is a restaurant in Kathmandu or a local shop in your hometown, I believe we need to support businesses involved in social causes. It will help differently-abled people keep their jobs but most importantly, they are the living example for other enterprises. I wish them success in their business and I hope others find inspiration in their business practice.
Facts about the hearing impaired in these posts are taken fro the following sources: