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How to order a meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken in sign language? Or tell the staff that you want to stay to eat in rather than take out?
If you don’t know, then you probably haven’t visited a KFC in Karachi or Lahore, Pakistan that is entirely run by speech and hearing impaired employees. In fact, one of the first things customers learn at the two KFC outlets is how to order meals and drinks in sign language. Plastered on the walls of the restaurant are pictures of how to use sign language and finger spell, and it certainly helps placing orders if patrons can follow the directions well.
All 25-30 staff at each location rely on sign language to operate the establishment, and it is the third such venture by KFC in the region (there are already outlets in Malaysia and Egypt that rely on hearing and speech impaired employees). Local firm Cupola, Pakistan Ltd is behind the venture, and it plans to open more outlets that rely on employees with differences. The company has a charitable foundation (the Cupola Care Foundation), which has been active in educational initiatives (such as the provision of libraries and staff and educational support for underprivileged children).
However, this venture is aimed at providing disabled persons with job opportunities and to promote effective communication between with and without disabilities. It also allows the business community to see that hearing and speech impaired people can be just as effective employees as anybody else. Cupola CEO Rafiq Rangoonwala was the man behind the drive to open Pakistan’s first fast food outlet run entirely by disabled staff.
30 prospective employees were chosen from local deaf school. They underwent regular KFC training, which took six weeks. Additionally, the outlet required modifications for the new staff. For instance, there are no bells in the restaurant. Cupola installed light bulbs instead to let staff know when meals had been cooked. Menus are illustrative so that customers who can’t use sign language can simply point to the meal they desire.
Working at the restaurant has provided significant opportunities to several of the staff. Being hearing impaired in Pakistan can–as anywhere–be a challenge. The opportunities provided at the new outlet are a significant step forward in a country where disabilities can lead people to live in a cocoon. Working with colleagues with similar disabilities has enabled the staff to grow in confidence.