Many deaf people still encounter barriers in Germany. Especially their entry into the job market often proves difficult. Now the student organization Enactus at the University of Cologne created the pop-up concept "Café ohne Worte" (English: Café without Words) that is designed to make it possible for deaf people to enter the job market and gain a foothold in it.
REHACARE.com spoke with Managing Director Frederike Höfermann about the increased demand and selection criteria for applicants.
Ms. Höfermann, how exactly is Café without Words organized?
Frederike Höfermann: The increasing demand for our events, especially by the general public, surprised even us to where we elevated Café without Words to a whole new level: it is now managed as a separate entity by the former project and team leaders, those being myself and Lukas Haffer.
Our one of a kind pop-up events enable us to jointly prove that deaf people can also effortlessly work in customer-service oriented professions and demonstrate that communication without words is not only possible but can also be fun.
What does a typical event night look like?
Höfermann: Our guests are greeted by one of the deaf waiters with a friendly signed "welcome" at a Café without Words event. Even for guests who are able to hear, the first order is super easy to place thanks to our specially designed picture-based menus. The great atmosphere at our events primarily stems from the openness between the guests and servers. In response to requests for more interaction between deaf people and those, who are able to hear, we host fun games and competitions in between to where all guests are perfectly satisfied when they go home at the end of the night.
Until recently, these events only took place in various Cafés around the Cologne area. In May, an event was held in Aachen for the very first time. How did people in this city like this idea?
Höfermann: It is wonderful to see that our events appeal to people everywhere. The successful event in Aachen enabled us to lay the foundation for our current expansion across Germany. We are always delighted to receive event inquiries from interested restaurants and guests from other cities. Café without Words is currently expanding far beyond the borders of North Rhine-Westphalia. We and our 38 servers look forward to once again making the next events that can be booked for September all across Germany a complete success.
What are the responsibilities of your deaf associates?
Höfermann: Our waiters mostly work directly with our guests: they take their orders in sign language, serve the ordered dishes and accept payment at the end.
How can people apply for a job as a waiter with you and what qualifications do applicants need?
Höfermann: All deaf people or people with severe hearing loss who speak sign language can apply with us. They complete a short application form on our website and are subsequently invited to a Skype interview, so we can get to know each other better. Once they have successfully completed the interview, we ensure that they receive infection prevention instruction – this is a requirement for every person who works in the gastronomy sector in Germany – at the respective public health department and arrange for a sign language interpreter if needed. Prior to their first assignment at one of our events, our waiters also must complete an online training to learn the required food service skills.
Because of the nature of our event, we are not limited to any specific location, meaning deaf persons from all over Germany are able to apply with us.
How can Café without Words facilitate a career in food service and catering?
Höfermann: Every event creates job opportunities in the fascinating food service and catering sector for deaf people across Germany. After a few initial talks, our medium-term plan is to expertly assist corporate inclusion processes with success in mind. Our vision is for someone ten years down the road to say, "Remember back at Ford or Google, we had the coolest coffee shop ever – because deaf people worked there and I was able to order my afternoon coffee in sign language."
How does this concept promote inclusion in the workplace?
Höfermann: In everyday life, deaf people frequently come across many barriers. It’s often also difficult for them to enter the job market. We are responding to this by offering interesting and flexible employment opportunities in a sector where communication is a quintessential part of the job. Our events are also designed to show guests who are able to hear that communication with deaf persons is really not as difficult as they originally thought and that sign language is actually quite a lot of fun. At the same time, we also show employers that deaf people and people who can hear are able to work well together and thereby create initial common ground between them and deaf persons. And that’s why the "Café ohne Worte" pop-up events are just the beginning for us.