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Home » Business

Deaf staff enrich workplace in Lower Hutt cafe

Submitted by on July 13, 2015 – 6:00 am
 Back row:  Alex Robinson - deaf, NZSL (trainee chef) Middle row (l to r):  Bryn Carnelly - can hear, doesnt listen, learning sign (barista) Sophie Taua'i - hearing, learning sign (operations and training manager) Front row (l to r): Tagialofa Eneliko - deaf, NZSL (barista) Claire Matheson - hearing, learning NZSL (boss lady) Julz Russ - deaf, reads lips, learning NZSL (Cafe Manager)

Great staff – Back row: Alex Robinson. Middle row: Bryn Carnelly and Sophie Taua’i. Front row, from left – Tagialofa Eneliko, Claire Matheson, and Julz Russ.

Two Lower Hutt cafe owners are employing young Deaf staff in front-of-house, management and chef roles and they say its been a great move for their business.

Co-Ed Café & Coffee Educators owners Claire Matheson and Dan Burford have established an inclusive, Deaf-friendly work and training environment.

“Coffee drinkers are happy to have good coffee, so the industry naturally fosters diversity,” said Claire. “It only takes an open mind to put it into practice.”

Claire and Dan became interested in Wellington’s Deaf community after running a coffee-making course for students of Newlands College, which included Deaf students. They’ve since employed staff with support from Deaf Aotearoa’s employment services.

“Hiring Deaf people doesn’t cost employers more, and increased diversity creates a more colourful workplace,” said Lachlan Keating, Chief Executive of Deaf Aotearoa. Deaf Aotearoa currently supports over 200 Deaf people in the workforce and has a relationship with a wide network of Deaf-friendly employers.

“We’ve helped Co-Ed’s hearing staff learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) so they can communicate with their Deaf colleagues more efficiently,” said Jared Flitcroft, Deaf Aotearoa Employment Consultant. Jared works with Co-Ed to ensure both employers and employees feel supported, and he’ll continue to assist Claire and Dan as they hire more Deaf staff and run coffee-making courses in NZSL.

It’s interesting to see how Co-Ed works behind the scenes. While the focus is on their customers, staff are very aware of one another and the tasks each is performing. “My Deaf colleagues are very observant and read the needs of the team intuitively,” said Claire.

“They’re also calm and focused, perhaps due to not having the same distraction from what is often a noisy environment.”

Celebrating their workplace diversity, Co-Ed have created an environment that engages customers by giving them the opportunity to learn NZSL, and use it in an authentic setting. “We have a loyal customer base that feels invested in our business,” said Claire.

“You have to be open to challenging your working practices, but the outcome is rewarding, not only for the business, but also personally.”

“I’m thankful that my staff trust me enough to commit to my vision for a more diverse and inclusive industry. The rewards far outweigh the investment and having the help of Deaf Aotearoa has been immense. They’ve given me the confidence to rethink our whole working practice.”

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