Deaf staff work harder, show commitment
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
A new hotel in the Cape Town has revealed that employing deaf staff gets the job done, and perhaps even better than hearing people are able to do it.
At least, that is what hotel manager Clinton Thom believes. Thom manages the Park Inn by Radisson hotel in Newlands, which opened its doors on October 13.
It has partnered with the Deaf Federation of South Africa to ensure that deaf people have access to job opportunities. To this end, 30% of the hotel’s 92 staff members are deaf.
And they work in various divisions: transport, maintenance, housekeeping, security, finance, reservations and others.
Thom says when they employed deaf staff they “didn’t want to hide them in the back of the hotel”.
“We have integrated deaf staff in every department. There have been extra costs but the benefits outweigh the costs. Their level of commitment and hard work is so much more. They set an example for our hearing staff,” says Thom.
Costs have included additional time to train deaf staff. Thom says that was also because none of the newly appointed deaf staff had previously worked in the hotel industry.
“They didn’t have hotel skills. We had to train all of them. That took longer. It was also then a concern that employing them would have an impact on our operations,” says Thom.
Having deaf staff has meant the hotel has needed to hire an interpreter – another cost – and inform all guests upon check-in about the disability.
“Our hearing staff has already picked up some sign language from the deaf staff. But we want to still send all hearing staff on a sign language course,” he says.
So far, says Thom, there have been no major hassles. Guests have enjoyed interacting with deaf staff, he adds.
It seems to also make business sense to engage disabled staff and guests.
“Our hotel has 122 rooms and five of those are rooms cater for paraplegic guests. Usually a hotel would have only one paraplegic room for every 100 rooms. We are doing more than that,” he says.
“We have already had deaf and disabled travellers stay at our hotel.”
Deaf waitron Shamiel Howley jokes the advantage of employing deaf staff is that they get the job done better than hearing co-workers.
“Deaf people are more hard-working because we focus more. Hearing people talk too much to each other when they work. We just do the work,” he says.
Dale Holmes, supervisor for the hotel’s meetings and events, is another deaf staff member and says they “want to have a positive impact in the hotel”.
“It is sometimes challenging when people are impatient and give up on us. We can lip read, but sometimes people speak too fast. So I ask again to understand something,” says Holmes.
“I understand there’s sometimes not enough time, but communication is important so that we can understand each other. The hotel is very busy but we need to communicate.”
He adds: “We lost our voices. We don’t even know what we sound like. We feel lost in the hearing world. So we really want to teach our hearing colleagues a bit of sign language. We will catch up with each other.”
To help them catch up, the hotel’s sign language interpreter Unathi Kave helps staff communicate but does not “interfere in their relationships”.
“People need to cultivate relationships on their own. This will also help hearing staff to learn sign language because they need to use it (with their colleagues),” she says.
In the finance department, deaf colleagues Elzabe van der Walt and Claudell Smit work side-by-side with hearing colleagues.
Van der Walt says she struggled for three years to find a job in Cape Town before joining the hotel.
“It’s very difficult to find a job when you’re deaf. I feel I’ve been given a chance,” says the creditors clerk.
“We attended training with deaf and hearing people. That opened a door for us to work together. We need to put aside the deaf and hearing mentality and work together,” she adds.
Cash controller Smit says working at this hotel “feels different than working at other companies where I’ve worked” as the “people treat us different here”.
“I’m happy here,” she says.
The hotel’s human resources manager Maggie Adams says the bigger picture is that there are still many deaf people who are job hunting. To employ only 30 deaf staff members, they interviewed 150 deaf candidates.
“This shows how many deaf people are unemployed and they are ready for work. Employers must just be open and give them an opportunity,” says Adams.
“Most of the deaf staff we interviewed have matric as they went to schools for deaf people. We employ people with the right attitude, as skills can be trained.”
Clinton says they have a “database of people that have been interviewed and we would like it if others also employed deaf staff”.
“We live in South Africa, where there’s an emphasis on employing people with disability. Everybody wants to get employment equity right and then forget the disabled,” he says.
“It is good for a company to employ deaf staff, because they want to succeed. Hotels also usually have a high staff turnover. We don’t think this will happen with our deaf staff.
“They had to live on a government grant before and they now appreciate the salary so much more. We will in turn invest in their training.”