Across China: Silent cafe brews opportunity for hearing-impaired
XI'AN, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Coffee shops are cool, but in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, a newly opened cafe is known for its warmth.
Barista Li Sha is busy making a cup of cappuccino, with a lovely aroma of coffee filling the air. She bends her thumb twice, a gesture meaning "thank you" in Chinese sign language, as she hands the coffee to a customer.
Li, 37, is among seven hearing-impaired staff in the new Starbucks outlet in Xi'an, which is specially equipped with a speech recognition system at the counter, dual-sided food order touch screens, and handwriting boards. The system, screens and boards allow the hearing-impaired workers to communicate face-to-face with customers with ease.
Li was born with a hearing impairment. She tried multiple jobs including working as an art teacher, a dancer and a clerk after graduating from Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts. But none of them could turn into a long-term career.
"When I taught children drawing, I failed to arouse their enthusiasm because I can't speak. Communication was always the main problem hindering me from excelling in any job," Li wrote on a piece of paper.
However, she refused to give in to fate. Three years ago, Li came across a job advertisement for baristas. She decided to give it a try. Due to her hearing impairment, Li encountered more difficulties than she had expected while learning to make coffee, and later in her daily work.
"Being a barista is by no means an easy feat. Having no experience in the industry, I didn't even know that different types of coffee need different proportion of espresso, syrup, ice cubes and milk," she wrote.
After a process of diligent practice, Li has mastered skills of making all coffee drinks. "She can teach other hearing-impaired staff to make coffee with sign language now, thus improving the learning efficiency of all," said Liu Pan, manager of the cafe.
Official data shows that from 2016 to 2020, more than 1.8 million disabled people were newly employed in China. According to a three-year plan issued by the State Council, 1 million new jobs will be created for persons with disabilities in urban and rural areas between 2022 and 2024.
In recent years, a growing number of restaurants and coffee shops have hired people with disabilities like Li in China's major cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi'an, providing more job options for the disabled and helping them to better integrate into society.
In Li's cafe, more customers start saying hello and goodbye in sign language, or try ordering a cup of coffee with gestures based on written instructions posted at the counter.
"I hope the whole society can have more understanding and respect for us, and every hearing-impaired person can realize their full potential," Li wrote.