Giving Voice To Silence

costa.jpgOrdering in the Costa Coffee outlet in GK-I M-Block Market, one is pleasantly surprised to spot deaf and mute workers employed at the front-end. While one may be slightly hesitant at first while ordering, the uncertainty is quickly dismissed when they smile amiably and take your order, as you point to what you want in the menu. They seem unmindful of the curious stares that they attract and proudly gesture to the customers that they cannot hear and “will-you-please-wait-until-our-co-worker-comes” when there is a need for answering a question.

What is even more brilliant is the fact that the solitary worker there who is not deaf or mute knows sign language and efficiently communicates to his co-workers while the customers watch, fascinated… and slightly awestruck. The outlet is a popular one with customers constantly streaming in; but there seems to be no hitch in ordering and serving as things seem to run smoothly, and fast. One is left wondering why one does not see more such places which employ deaf and mute workers to man the front-end.

In conversation with Virag Joshi, President & CEO of Devyani International Ltd., Master Franchisee of Costa Coffee in India, a few of our questions were answered. Virag is the man behind this initiative of employing deaf and mute workers at the front-end of the Costa outlet situated in M-Block.

1. I understand you came up with the idea. What made you decide to employ deaf and mute people? Was it a conscious decision?

Yes, it was a conscious decision. It is a social cause and I get both personal satisfaction as well as a means to explore the opportunities of helping people out. When I was struck by the idea, I wanted to test it out. Deaf and mute workers have been employed in the past at the back-end and in the kitchen, but not where the main orders are placed. We found that they were very much at par with other workers at the front-end as they were at the back-end.

2. Does it pose a problem working with them? How do customers communicate with them?

Not at all. All of them have been trained for two months to understand ways of communicating with the customers. Their training includes learning coffee-making skills, communication skills and meeting customer expectation. They all know how to lip-read and have proven to be very efficient and dependable.

3. Did you especially make sure that the non-deaf and mute workers learn sign language in order to ensure smooth functioning?

Yes. They are taught sign language too so that they can work together well and function as a team.

(It is interesting to note here that Mr. Joshi knows sign language and is well-versed in it)

4. Was it a charitable feeling that spurred you or was it a conscious effort at social service?

Definitely social service. It was a conscious attempt to value social ethic and blend it together with the pragmatic aspects that I had in mind. So I went ahead and mulled over the idea with the team and decided to explore this possibility and slowly build up the same. The KFC situated in Calcutta has 40 deaf and mute people working there, where service time is one minute, as it is a fast food chain. And I’m pleased to say that they are having no trouble in handling the pressure of the fast service at the counter.

5. What background do these people come from?

They have all graduated class 10 and class 12 and are working full-time with us.

6. Have you tied up with any other organization or is this purely an independent venture?

It is an independent venture at present, but we would like to explore this opportunity further and not be averse to tying up with an organization to bring this cause to a greater scale.

They are all loyal and committed workers and we should spend time and understand their language.

7. Are other Costa locations planning to follow suit?

Absolutely! There are already deaf and mute workers employed at the back of the house; we will train them and bring them to the fore-end, where they will no doubt prove to be great workers.

This brilliant initiative that Costa Coffee has undertaken is an example for others to follow. We applaud the work being done by them and hope to encourage further endeavors. We hope that other organizations join in to support such social causes for the betterment of society.

Indrani Basu.