Anjan Manikumar tells CBC News that he got the idea for Signs Restaurant, an establishment that employs 50 deaf servers, when he was a waiter to a deaf customer who ordered by pointing at items on the menu.
“I felt he wasn’t getting the service he deserved,” Manikumar says. “He wasn’t getting the personal touch.”
So Manikumar, who has an MBA and 10 years of experience in the food industry, set out to create a restaurant where non-deaf customers would have to adapt to a deaf environment in a fun and novel way.
At Signs, which opened in Toronto on July 31, customers use American Sign Language illustrations in the menu to interact with their deaf servers. Here’s a page on how to indicate how you’d like your food cooked or if you have a food allergy:
If it gets too difficult, customers can always cheat by pointing.
The latest data available on deaf unemployment in Canada is from 1998 and reports that 37.5% of deaf Canadians are unemployed. The Canadian Association of the Deaf said in 2012 that “the unemployment rate for deaf people is unacceptably high,” due mostly to inflexible and insensitive work environments.
“We want to create awareness for the hearing community that the deaf community has the ability to do anything and everything,” manager Rachel Shemue tells CBC News.
According to The National, more than 200 deaf people applied for jobs. Of the 50 hired, most had no prior restaurant experience.
Mehdi Safavi landed a job as a waiter, the first full-time job he’s ever had. “It’s a deaf environment where hearing people can come in and experience our world and our culture, so it’s really amazing,” he tells The National.
We first learned of Signs from business guru Seth Godin. It remains to be seen if the restaurant will succeed after the initial hype dies down, but Godin believes the hiring strategy is much more than a cheap gimmick.
He writes on his blog: “For me, the breakthrough here is permitting us, even for a little while, to understand what people who aren’t ‘most people’ or aren’t like those in power, have to accept in order to engage with the systems that have been built.”
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