Saturday, May 21, 2011

In India, cafe staffed with all deaf workers

From Economic Times in India:

NEW DELHI, India -- The Costa Coffee outlet in South Delhi's Green Park market is quieter than other cafés. Apart from the conversational murmur of guests, there's little noise behind the counter.

Shaan Ahamed, 23, and Preeti Bhot, 21, the two baristas on the morning shift, cheerfully take customer orders, make coffee, serve tables and everything else that comes with the job - all without a single word uttered between them.

Both are deaf and the outlet is among the few ones in the Costa network where the entire team has been staffed with deaf workers (except for the shift manager and his assistant).

"When I came in I was afraid and shy of facing customers," says Ahamed, in sign language interpreted by his manager Debasis Das. "Now I am fine." The eldest child born to the family of a hardware goods distributor in Aligarh, Ahamed is fortunate to have found a means of living and a job he loves.

As India Inc discovers that deaf workers can, despite their disability, bring in unique skills and contribute meaningfully to jobs, youngsters like Ahamed not only have careers, they are actually in demand. From shopfloor workers to computer hardware and networking engineers and in-store promoters in retail stores to security staff in 5-star hotels, the deaf have been finding employment with companies like Titan, IBM, MphasiS, Café Coffee Day, and the Taj Group of Hotels.

"Our experience has been that their other senses are very sharp. 90% of them have high commitment and surprisingly high energy levels. They are more loyal, genuine and want to do well in life," says Virendra Singh, director HR at RJ Corp, which represents KFC, Pizza Hut and Costa Coffee in India. Starting three years ago in Kolkata, the group now employs around 450 deaf people in KFC and Costa - 200 in Kolkata alone - sourcing them mainly from local NGOs Silence and Sarthak.

Singh says the target is to have at least two such people in each of its outlets. It's not hard to see why. Store managers, though initially apprehensive, eventually find that their deaf reports bring unique traits that make life easier in the demanding environment of a cafe. "The first 1-3 months are awkward," says Das. Then it gets better. "They do not ask many questions. And once I ask them to do something I don't have to repeat myself," he says.

Café Coffee Day employs 90 deaf people and plans to add 30 during the current quarter according to Shyamala Deshpande, president HR at Café Coffee Day (CCD).