Deaf pride

A week or so ago I ran into a manager from Super Centre who told me about a customer who had an enjoyable experience with one of her staff. As she began to explain I stood there listening with great interest since I knew who she was speaking about and really wanted to get all the details – I didn’t want to miss a thing.

When she was done, she said the customer had written his story about the service he received in another editorial and I was really glad when I came across it over the weekend.

The customer apparently was pretty frustrated after combing the aisles looking for a particular product but yet was having absolutely no success. After seeing a young lady who worked there, he decided to seek out her assistance. This is where my article officially starts. The customer, in his frustration after realising that she was deaf thought as he said: “… was just what I needed to further frustrate me”.

However, after realising that she lip read him perfectly and quickly pointed him in the right direction for his product, he was not only very satisfied but felt compelled to head over to Customer Service to express appreciation at the exemplary service he received.

I believe he experienced what many haven’t. Not because he was in the right place at the right time to have some interaction with Radika Trotman, but because so many establishments don’t include them in their recruitment or hiring process.

We become so caught up in what we think would be a barrier without even at least being open to creating an opportunity for someone who more often than not proves our original theory to be pretty skewed.

Earlier this week a restaurant opened in the Gaza Strip – of all places – that is the first of its kind. The stylish Atfaluna restaurant is run and staffed by deaf people and this was done as the country tries to help Palestinians build a more inclusive society where people with disabilities can realise their full potential.

The cooks and waiters are all deaf and they use sign language to communicate while guests point to selections from the menu. What ensues is a spontaneous form of communication that organisers hope will break down biases and barriers because it’s a win-win scenario for all involved.

You see, this restaurant caters to everyone, so not only do you have a chance to learn each other’s language but you have an opportunity to build relationships that would not have been created otherwise. Naeem Kabaja, director of Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in Gaza, which runs the restaurant said

“It (deafness) was perceived by many as a mental disability. But we’ve been able to change that and it has since improved, through our work, the spread of sign language, activities by the deaf and raising public awareness about this disability.”

Kabaja’s take on people’s perception is on point. I’ve found that people tend to believe not that there’s really a communication problem between themselves and the deaf, but one that is a mental issue. I don’t know if it’s because of the sound they hear coming from a deaf person’s lips when they try to speak and somehow equate that with lack of intelligence or being retarded, but there’s nothing that could be further from the truth.

We need to acknowledge that we are quick to jump to conclusions without fully assessing a situation and that goes for just about everything. The deaf and disabled sometimes fight harder not to communicate, but just to be heard and understood by those of us in the mainstream who think ourselves superior to those who have challenges.

So many of them have dreams of owning their own establishments, becoming fashion designers, going to university to further their education, yet suffer at the hands of those who not only dismiss them on sight, but sometimes suffer even more so at the hands of those who are responsible for taking care of them in the home and/or educating them in schools.

We can’t afford to sit around and wait for those in Government and other organisations to make a change on a national level. They need to, but in the meantime we need to start on an individual level. We need to start with us. How many people have just ignored or looked down on Radika and others like her who are trying to be “better than everybody else” because they have to fight our perceptions?

I’m sure some are surprised when they realise that Super Centre Warrens, where Radika works, also has a deaf cashier by the name of Danielle, who is not only doing an excellent job (clearly proven after becoming “Employee of the Month”) but who also have plans of her own for a brighter future.

It’s amazing how we are so quick to criticise but when they do something that shows they can hold their own or even put them on par with us, we have nothing good to say because they have uncovered our profound ignorance.

For satisfied customers like Chetwyn Greenidge, who acknowledged good and satisfactory service, we say thank you; and for Radika, Danielle, the deaf in Palestine and those the world over – keep fighting. We hear you!

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