Expanding Hot-Pot Chain Challenges Deaf Employment Deficit

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When a customer moves their thumb up or down toward Sun Zhongyue, the young waiter just replies with a shy smile.

That is the way to say “thanks” and “you’re welcome” in a special hot-pot restaurant manned by 11 deaf waitstaff including Sun.

The east Beijing eatery, named “Xinhuoguo,” literally “hot-pot with love,” is a franchised store under the Liuyishou Group, a leading spicy hot-pot brand from southwest China.

Such initiatives focusing on disabled employment have come under the spotlight on Sunday, China’s National Ear Care Day, marked annually on March 3.

All those given cause to reflect will be pleased to note that Liuyishou recently announced plans to open at least 30 more Xinhuoguo branches to be staffed by some 4,000 handicapped people, adding that it would donate part of the profits to public welfare causes.

Sun, 20, has worked at the unusually silent restaurant for two years and has risen to a senior position on the team, gaining rich experience along the way.

The restaurant offers a wall of pictures covering the translation of various food and tableware into sign language, which enables customers to use their hands to tell waiters what they want.

Of course, if the wordless communication fails, a pen and a piece of paper are always available.

Liuyishou Group founder Liu Song is handicapped and launched four wordless-serving restaurants in 2012 to help deaf people.

The job had also changed Sun’s outlook.

As a newborn boy, his ears were hammered by his father’s working from home as a carpenter.

His father deeply regretted it and was afraid Sun would be incapable of living independently.

At Xinhuoguo, however, Sun can do everything by himself and is becoming much more open and willing to communicate with people, according to Li Rui, manager of the restaurant.

Unlike his female colleagues, who always have warm dispositions at work, Sun is very cautious about making eye contact with customers, but he has always been considerate in providing services ahead of diners’ demands.

Some customers even finish their meals unaware that Sun can not speak, so readily can the young man understand people by reading their lips or pidgin sign language learned in the restaurant.

“He is gradually walking out of his own world,” according to Li.

Employment is crucial for China’s massive handicapped population to adapt to normal life.

Statistics show that over 20 million Chinese have hearing disabilities, but only a limited portion of jobs are open for them in the context of severe completion in the job market.

China’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015) provides that the country will stabilize and expand employment for the disabled.

The state will provide employment services and vocational training for disabled people who seek employment, and make sure that an additional 800,000 disabled people are employed by 2015, the plan says.

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