At Sign With Me, a local soup Café in Tokyo customers are received by sign language and gestures from staff members. In Japan it is traditional to receive a ‘irasshaimase’ shouted as a welcome when a new customer enters into a restaurant but here it’s a much more quiet affair.

The café is run by a hearing-impaired owner named Masahiro Yanagi. He once worked as a coordinator for hiring disabled people at large-scale corporations and he grew more and more frustrated as hearing-impaired people quit because they were unable to participate in workplace conversations. So he decided to create a venture where all employees are welcomed and the quality of the business would not suffer in any way.

He was able to build up a sustainable business by taking hints from successful Chinese and Indian restaurants where the staff were not fluent in Japanese. Just like many of these businesses, where communication with the customer was often more difficult, he found that the taste and the quality of the product overcame any prejudice or bias that customers had with the service.

Yanagi worked to secure a franchise contract with Soup and Innovation Co. By using this contact he was able to open up a franchise soup bar which would employ a staff of people with disabilities. About 90% of the customers at Sign with Me do not have any type of disability but many have enjoyed learning sign language by regularly visiting the location.

Taking from the success of this business model new businesses are opening up including the Machiya Café Sawasawa in Kyoto which features 15 visually impaired employees. Thanks to the help of listening devices and various kitchen tools even those employees that are 100% blind are capable of producing perfect dishes and coffees.

New legislation is being planned for the future to prohibit any discrimination for employment based on disability. Employers across Japan may soon be required to make all necessary arrangements based on the requests of disabled employees.

This is wonderful news for corporations and for disabled individuals that are interested in utilizing their talents and potential at a corporation or small business.

Source: The Japan Times.


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