Employment July 16, 2020
At Chennai’s Salem RR Biryani restaurant, sign language is the only mode of communication
Seven people with hearing impairments have come together to start a restaurant in Chennai where sign language is the only mode of communication for the staff as well as diners.
Every dish has its own sign at Salem RR Biryani, a first of its kind sign language only restaurant that has recently opened in Chennai. The restaurant is run by seven people with speech and hearing impairments who have come together with the support of an NGO called Voice for the Voiceless Indian Peoples’ Foundation.
Everyone here, from the staff to the diners communicates in sign language. Every dish, from idlis to puris to the chutney has been given a specific sign that visitors have to learn so they can communicate what they want to eat.
Food orders taken in sign language
Karpagam, CEO, Voice for the Voiceless Indian Peoples’ Foundation, says the idea occurred to her when she had a meal cooked by the seven people involved in running the restaurant. An advocate at the Madras High Court, Karpagam is visually impaired.
The staffers can neither hear nor speak and they came up with a simple sign for each dish. They run the restaurant completely on their own. The orders will be taken in sign language and diners have to learn those signs to communicate. There will be some difficulty in the beginning but I am confident that with time this will get much easier and seamless. –Karpagam, CEO, Voice for the Voiceless India Peoples Foundation
Of the seven, five – Rathinam, Manikandan, Sudhish, Santhosh and Pramila – handle the cleaning, billing and housekeeping. Most of them are sportspersons who coached children before the lockdown. Now with schools shut, their source of income has ended. Some are students of ITI.
“Many people are worried about their livelihoods during this lockdown”, says Rathinam, a sports coach. “I see this restaurant as an opportunity to earn a living and send a larger message to society”.
Greater awareness about sign language
Before opening the restaurant they underwent training at SAI Institutions under Director Chef Vinoth Kumar. “I was very impressed by the way they work and offered to train them. This will be the first of its kind restaurant in India operated only sign language”, says Kumar. “I am very thrilled and delighted to train them in the professional etiquette. The students attended a 10-day orientation and are also being sponsored for a one year diploma programme”
Food blogger Mohammed Niyaz visited the restaurant this week and loved the ambience. “I did not find it hard to communicate with the staff as I went with a friend who is familiar with sign language. But even without that support, communication would not be hard”. The food, he says, is unique. “If you order a carrot or spinach dosa, they make it specially for that person. It’s not like they make the batter in bulk and keep it. The chutneys were very varied too. I would definitely visit again as I loved the josh (spirit) of the staff”.
Currently the restaurant services breakfast and tiffin and there are takeaway and home delivery options as well. “This provides a unique perspective in understanding, ordering food and of course awareness about sign language”, adds Kargagam. There are also plans to tie up with Swiggy and Zomato and start a takeaway food service called Silent Signs. “We are also looking for sponsors who can help us run this restaurant in a full fledged manner”.
The restaurant is located on Velachery Main Road, opposite Phoenix MarketCity. You can call +91-91760-45578 to order via an interpreter.
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