Gaza deaf restaurant a chance to change perceptions

Thu Oct 18, 2012 9:40am EDT
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - A restaurant run and staffed by deaf people opened for business in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, helped by Palestinians seeking to build a more inclusive society where people with disabilities can realize their full potential.

The stylish Atfaluna restaurant near Gaza port stands out in a city with few facilities for the disabled. Waiters and cooks use sign language, guests point to selections from the menu and what ensues is a spontaneous form of communication that organizers hope will break down bias and barriers.

"Deaf people have determination and there are no worries except when it comes to communication, the language problem. At first we may get translators to help us with the speaking clients," supervisor Ayat Imtair told Reuters in sign language.

After six months of training with her staff, she was confident the service would go smoothly.

"This is a call on the community, and a working chance for the deaf to help them engage with the community," she signed.

Twenty years ago Palestinian attitudes to deaf people were negative, said Naeem Kabaja, director of Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in Gaza, which runs the restaurant.

"It was perceived by many as a mental disability. But we've been able to change that and it has since improved, through our work, the spread of sign language, activities by the deaf and raising public awareness about this disability," he said.

Still, Kabaja said, many of the deaf themselves tend to shy away from engagement with broader society, afraid of communications obstacles and expecting little understanding.   Continued...

 
A hearing impaired employee uses sign language to communicate with a co-worker in the kitchen of Atfaluna restaurant in Gaza City October 17, 2012. The restaurant run and staffed by deaf people opened for business in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, helped by Palestinians seeking to build a more inclusive society where people with disabilities can realise their full potential. Picture taken October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem