How one café in Nairobi is empowering the deaf

With the current economic times and the rampant job cuts within the job market in the country, it has become increasingly difficult to secure employment.

Now imagine how much harder and complicated it has to be for people living with disabilities. But one restaurant in Nairobi has made it its primary mission to promote inclusivity and equal employment by exclusively hiring deaf waiters and waitresses. 

Metropol TV featured pallet café, a restaurant that has chosen to economically empower the deaf by providing them with jobs that would otherwise go to able-bodied individuals.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), disability affects 10% of every population, an estimated 650 million people worldwide. In Kenya, statistics by the Kenya national survey for people living with disabilities shows that 4.6 percent of Kenyans experience some form of disability. That is approximately 2.2 million Kenyans. 

A third of these, that is 546,990, work in family businesses, while 722,026 do not work.

It is against these realities that pallet café has set out to change the narrative by integrating deaf people into the job market through employment as waiters and waitresses.

“We are a café that employs deaf people. Most people with disabilities are pushed aside so we came up with the idea to integrate them into the job.”

Pallet café is one of the few if not the only restaurant that on boards people living with disabilities. To prepare them for their tasks, Emmy says the cafe absorbs the staff, trains them on basic hospitality principles including serving customers, posting orders and customer service for efficient service delivery and memorable culinary experience for customers.

For clients that do not speak sign language, you come in, we show them the menu. They point to whatever they want and the waiter writes on the paper. Slowly our customers are picking up essential sign language words like thank you.”

Emmy says, in the beginning, it was hard for the customers to come terms with the idea of being served by a deaf waiter but this has since changed and patrons are steadily warming up to the concept, something that Boniface Odhiambo, a deaf staff at pallet café attests to.

This is not something done everywhere and hence to be served by a deaf waiter is odd in the beginning. Now they appreciate the fact that we are giving them an opportunity to economically empower themselves”

With many people living with disabilities shunned in the job market, pallet café’s mission is to give them an opportunity to make a decent living and become self-sufficient.

Many people with disabilities are forced to depend on their families or loved ones for support. Boniface: before I began working here, I was working in a Kinyozi and finances were tight. Now I am able to supplement my income with this job.”

As international organizations call for inclusivity in the job market, Emmy says moving forward all sectors should strive to create equal opportunities for everybody.

Everyone has a gift and talent. We need to ensure they all have equal opportunities to make a living.”

With proper training, pallet café has shown that it is possible to integrate people living with disabilities into the job market. Pallet café has done so by employing deaf staff and from the look of things, they are thriving.

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