A coffee to celebrate the International Day of Sign Languages

In different places in Amsterdam, you can order a coffee in sign language because the employees of the bar are only deaf people.

On Wednesday 23 September, it was the International Day of Sign Languages. According to World Federation of the Deaf, more than 70 million people are deaf in the world. To communicate, these people use the sign language. Each country has its own sign language. In The Netherlands, the Dutch sign language is the most widespread. It’s spoken by 15 million people.

Sign Language Coffee Bar is a Dutch company which manages and supplies some bars and restaurants. These bars and restaurants are unusual because most of their employees are deaf people or hearing-impaired. “The baristas are all deaf or almost deaf,” tells Simon Krom, an employee of the company.

To order, you can only use sign language. Henkus Brands, duty manager of The Circle, a bar-restaurant belonging to Sign Language Coffee Bar, explains how it works: “To order, you have a screen. You choose what you want on the screen, and it shows you how to order in sign language. At the end of your order, you also know how to say hello, goodbye or have a nice day.”

The bar is only managed by deaf people. It’s different for the restaurant where a large part of the team is not deaf. The deaf employees and the others work together. “To communicate, you have to look at them when you talk because they need to see your lips. They read pretty well on the lips,” explains Henkus.

However, the communication is still complicated. “When you talk to them, the majority just nods with their head. You can’t be sure they understand. So, when I have to talk to them for an important thing, I write it on my mobile phone,” says he. “To recruit them, we need a third person who hears well and understands sign language.”

Even for the clients, it could be hard to know who’s deaf and who’s not. “We created different t-shirt to distinguish deaf people from non-deaf people,” tells he. This smart idea prevents some sensitive situations. Henkus confesses that before, some clients didn’t know that a person was deaf. They didn’t understand why a waitress didn’t answer to their question or turn around when they called them.

It is special that this bar hires only deaf people as they have a hard time finding employment. “Many deaf people are unemployed,” confirms Simon. Unfortunately, the corona crisis had consequences. Simon Krom describes how the recent crisis has slowed down his company: “Before the corona crisis, twenty bars were operational. Right now, there are only two, but we will build up,” he says.

In any case, the experience worth a visit. If you want a coffee next time, think about the Sign Language Coffee Bar.