Restaurants for and by the deaf

Photo credit: Lawrence Suzara

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Two recent news stories about restaurants in Osaka, Japan,* and close to home in Los Angeles, California, caught my eye. In Osaka, a new cafe, Shojo, opened that is an entirely silent space; no speech is allowed. The 16-seat cafe wants customers to enjoy the silence. There’s no talking, no cellphones and no background music. This cafe reminds us that one way of looking at disabilities is that there really aren’t any disabilities, only disabling environments.

According to the news story, the majority of the staff are deaf or hard of hearing. The restaurant is run by a nonprofit that aims to create spaces free of disabling characteristics. In a rare Google search failure, I was unable to track down more information about the nonprofit, but the idea is an interesting one.

I would note that most diners in the United States and probably around the world don’t want a silent restaurant, just a quieter restaurant in which they can enjoy both the meal and the conversation with their dining companions. The Quiet Communities working group on restaurant noise has begun efforts to make restaurants quieter

Closer to home, I caught a report on local television about a restaurant in Los Angeles started by CODAs, children of deaf adults, and their parents. The now-adult children have normal hearing and speech but were raised by a deaf mother and a hearing father, and grew up learning both American Sign Language and spoken English. Pi00a is a family-owned pizzeria that trains and employs deaf workers to make pizzas. Restaurant patrons probably don’t know that the people making their pizzas are deaf, unless they see them communicating in ASL. On Instagram, Pi00a states that it is “Proudly Deaf & CODA, Asian and family owned.” KCAL News also covered the restaurant recently.

In the hearing health community, deafness means a complete inability to hear, usually due to congenital deafness. Deafness, profound hearing loss, and even mild to moderate hearing loss are associated with increased unemployment and decreased lifetime earnings.

With current technology, like computerized ordering systems in restaurants, one doesn’t need to be able to hear to make a pizza, even if others in the restaurant don’t speak ASL. Deaf workers at Pi00a have gone on to work in other restaurants. I haven’t tried Pi00a yet, but plan to when I meet friends for lunch. I’m sure the pizzas are tasty.

*Thanks to Yishane Lee at the Hearing Health Foundation for sharing the news about the Osaka restaurant.

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