Imagine landing at an airport in a remote corner of Europe. At the immigration counter, you are bombarded with questions in a language you’ve never heard before. You try to communicate with the immigration officer the best you can, but he just doesn’t seem to understand. In fact, even the people queued behind you seem to be unable to comprehend your language and start getting irritated by the hold up. Eventually, the officer pulls you aside, so he may deal with the others in line. You stand there feeling helpless, angry, and humiliated. This feeling would give you an inkling of what most deaf people often feel, when dealing with the ‘normal’ people.
Difficult enough as it is to live among the ‘hearing,’ finding a decent job is almost impossible. Unfortunately, Karachi has very little to offer its hearing impaired citizens, other than a few schools teaching the universal sign language. Now, KFC Pakistan endeavors to bring them into the work arena for proving to the public that they are an able and capable task force. KFC has opened an outlet dedicated and operated by the hearing impaired.
This KFC outlet is specially equipped to be run by the hearing impaired – for instance, the bells, which are used to alert a cook, have been replaced with flashing lights. This outlet does more than give the deaf a vocation; it seeks to educate its customers about bridging the communication gap between them. The walls are decorated with images displaying the signs for such simple phrases as “thank you “and “I don’t understand”. The menus at the counter show the orders with the images of items and their sign language equivalents, so a customer may simply point out his desired meal, and for less inhibited, ‘sign’ the order.
Setting up a facility, which caters to their vocational needs, doesn’t mean that things have been smooth sailing for KFC’s team of 32 hearing impaired. Vigorous training to run the restaurant and serve the customers cannot build the courage and confidence they need to deal with ‘normal’ hearing customers. “They have had to deal will all kinds of customers,” explains Ahsan Farhan Naqvi, assistant business manager at the branch. There are those customers, who are very encouraging and specially come to dine here for supporting the staff; however, many have demonstrated much impatience, which naturally disheartens the team. In fact, a number of the initial hearing impaired team quit soon after the restaurant launched.
Currently, the outlet has some ‘hearing’ members, who supervise the running of the outlet and do deliveries. As learning sign language takes some time, they have been provided by communicators proficient in the language to act as mediators amongst the team and customers when necessary. Many from the hearing team are keenly learning the sign language through their everyday interaction with the rest of the team. But in the forefront at the counters, you will be greeted by a smile from the hearing impaired.
Ahsan explains that the KFC Gulshan branch team consists of educated and very capable young people. They can operate computers, fix electrical equipment, and have been handling most of the branch’s maintenance work as well. Karachi is lacking in opportunities for them, which is why they are thankful to KFC for providing them with the platform to bring about a positive change for the future generations.
Furthermore, KFC also offers its hearing impaired team career growth opportunities. As they strengthen their capabilities within the branch, they can apply for positions further up the KFC career ladder, just like any other ‘hearing’ employee. This symbolizes KFC’s promise of not making distinctions among its employees, which is difficult for most organizations dealing with the deaf.
Most organizations, in fact, are unwilling to take on the challenge of setting up a work environment conducive to the needs of the deaf at all, and many of the hearing impaired themselves hesitate to go out of their own home environments. Ahsan explains that though the schools for the deaf teach them sign language, they do not help build a strong command of reading and writing Urdu and English. This handicap decreases their chances of securing any meaningful employment.
Bringing this hearing impaired team together was not as easy as simply putting an ad in the papers. Forms for potential employees were initially sent to the “Deaf Reach Centre” (which teaches computer literacy) that eventually circulated them to other schools for the deaf. The response was slow at first. Many of the deaf, like most young people, were initially anxious to take on the world. However, their first interaction with the real world had been so daunting that they hesitated to consider this to be a true opportunity. Currently, though, there are over a hundred applications in pending, Alhumdulillah.
There are many young and proficient individuals out there, who can see, think, read, and write but just can’t hear our language. They need jobs. KFC has taken the lead in improving their futures, and others need to follow through for expanding their horizons. Allah (swt) has said: ”Who is he that will lend Allah (swt) a goodly loan, so that He may multiply it to him many times? And it is Allah (swt) that decreases or increases (your provisions), and unto Him you shall return”(Al-Baqarah 2: 245). A little investment in this world to overcome our handicap – our inability to communicate with the deaf, which can give us great returns in this world and the Hereafter. Insha’Allah (swt).
Islam Encourages Working in Spite of Disabilities
Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktum (rta) was one of the early converts to Islam – a Sahabah, Muezzin, Muhajir, and governor of Madinah. He even bore the standard for Muslims during Jihad. He did all this in spite of his handicap – he was blind. He would, in fact, speak of his handicap as an advantage by saying: “Place me between two rows and give me the standard. I will carry it for you and protect it, for I am blind and cannot run away.” The Prophet Muhammed (sa) and his Ummah respected and accepted him as he was – a man worthy of honor.