Last week in London, four baristas who are deaf started new jobs as part of a South-African based scheme to specifically create job opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people.
Based at four WeWork office locations around Central London, the baristas will use iPads to show customers how to order using sign language.
Pioneered by Gary Hopkins, 58, from Cape Town, South Africa, the London scheme has been born from his social enterprise ‘I Love Coffee’; founded seven years ago to train deaf people to become baristas. Since, the initiative has helped more than 100 individuals.
Hopkins credits the scheme with giving participants “the confidence to reach their goals and explore other job opportunities” – which extends to computer science and project management courses.
Prisilla Kwakye, 21, from Croydon, South London has taken on a position as one of the four baristas, saying she is “really excited”, having previously faced challenges finding a job.
She hopes that this will open new doors and opportunities for her, adding “I can build my confidence up, upskill myself and maybe in the future set up my own business. So the opportunities are endless.”
Due to continued community campaigning and charity initiatives, BSL measures and opportunities for deaf people in the UK are slowly progressing. In April 2022 after a year of campaigning, the BSL Act was successfully passed in Parliament.
According to the British Deaf Association, the act was created to provide “…greater recognition and understanding of BSL, and inclusion and equality for BSL users”. It officially and legally recognizes BSL as a language for England, Wales, and Scotland and will ensure adequate ‘guidance is provided to government departments and public bodies on how to meet the needs of people who use BSL as their first or preferred language.’
The Act was unanimously unopposed in the House of Lords and became law in June 2022. The British Deaf Association is committed to ensuring the government meets the criteria of the act, and is working towards “Establishing a non-statutory Advisory Board where representatives of the Deaf community can advise public services, increasing the number of registered interpreters [and] improving ‘Access to Work’ provision for claimants and employers.”
For Kwakye, being trained as a barista brings hope, as she had previously faced “a lot of rejections” and “barriers” created by contacting companies through interpreters. “Companies like this are really important as they create job opportunities for the deaf community that we wouldn’t normally have.”, she said.
It is hoped that more baristas will be trained for the scheme in the coming weeks and months.
Speaking to the BBC, Mathieu Proust, a chief operating officer for international at WeWork, said he was looking forward to seeing I Love Coffee’s “positive work for the deaf community ripple across the capital”.