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DeaFined Restaurant hopes to build bridges between deaf culture and hearing world

05/07/2015 10:50 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT
First, he opened a restaurant where customers dined in the dark while being served by visually-impaired wait staff. Now, Vancouver restaurateur Moe Alemeddine wants to build bridges between the deaf community and the hearing world.

DeaFined, which opened on May 7, employs deaf and hard-of-hearing servers and asks customers to order from the Mediterranean-themed menu using American Sign Language.

Deaf community left out of service industry

"While dealing with the blind community for 10 years, I saw that the deaf community has been isolated in the service industry," said Alemeddine. "So I decided to break that barrier and go all the way with it."

According to the Canadian Association of the Deaf, unemployment rates among the deaf and hard-of-hearing are significantly higher than the national average

"As the private sector, we have to make a move," said Allemedine, who worked with YWCA, the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, and Vancouver Community College's (VCC) Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Job Readiness program to find staff.

Sharing deaf culture a goal

Mika Sarmiento, who was born deaf, is with the VCC program. She's excited to be taking on her first job as a server.

"I just want to see people's eyes being opened...and realize they can communicate with deaf people," Sarmiento told CBC Radio's The Early Edition, speaking through an interpreter. "It's not such a challenge. It'll be fun!"

Customers are greeted by a hostess who is fluent in ASL and can act as an interpreter. Once they're seated, customers communicate with the server using simple ASL, as illustrated on the numbered menu. A pad of paper and a pencil will be on hand for more complicated communication.

"It's quite nice to see the dualness of it, and to be able to learn from each other," said Sarimiento, who is excited about what she sees as the melding of two cultures. "We are the minority, so I'm sure deaf people will be happy to have this place to socialize with hearing people, and have them be able to recognize our world."

Allemedine, who had very little previous experience with deaf culture, hopes people will be intrigued enough to try the restaurant, which is the first of its kind in British Columbia, and only the second in Canada.

"We want people to communicate," he said. "That's the whole idea. It's like 'Nothing is impossible.'"

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