the first in SwitzerlandVroom restaurant puts sign language on menu
The Geneva establishment, run by the deaf and hard of hearing, opened its doors on Friday. This project, unique in Switzerland, aims to raise public awareness of this disability.
An unearthly calm welcomes us to Vroom, despite the presence of many people. In this restaurant, managed by the deaf and hard of hearing, the visual prevails. Sign language, indicator lights or mirrors are all provided to help people with deafness communicate. On Friday, on the occasion of the opening of the establishment located in the district of Plainpalais, hearing and deafness evolved indistinctly in the same universe. “Deaf people are thirsty to communicate, to know, to share. We wanted a place that would welcome everyone, but where they would also feel comfortable”, explains Mehari Afewerki, president of the Society of the Deaf in Geneva (SSGenève) and supporter of the project.
“Show that we are capable of working”
Of the seven restaurant employees, four are deaf or hard of hearing. “We want to change the assumptions people have about us and show that we are also capable of working. The objective is to make the public aware of our disability, because if everyone knew how to sign (note: communicate with sign language), there would be no more deafness. It would be a dream, but for that society must agree to open up to us.
discrimination at work
“There are very few jobs open to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. This restaurant is a good way to make visible a population that is often hidden”, rejoices Sylviane, who came to know the place. On Thursday, the Swiss Federation of the Deaf revealed that discrimination complaints have increased in recent years, with 114 cases treated last year. “People with this disability are three times more discriminated against in hiring,” also recalled Elodie Ernst, a spokeswoman for Vroom.
A sign language initiation form is available at the establishment’s tables, but the seats are adapted to all customers. Thus, listeners are also part of the team. Caroline is one of them. With no knowledge of sign language, in just six months, she learned the basics. Proof that the project is already bearing fruit “I learned by spending time with the team”, confides the employee who has worked in the restaurant business for thirteen years. “In the end, it doesn’t change much. The only difference is that I use my hands more here”, smiles those who “wanted to accept a new challenge”.
the first in Switzerland
If Vroom became a reality, it is thanks to the support of several foundations and other donors who financed the project during a crowdfunding campaign launched in 2020. In Switzerland, it is the first restaurant of its kind and Mehari Afewerki hopes that “it will serve as a model and have the effect of a forest fire in the country”. Similar projects are also being studied in other cantons, “unfortunately, they run into the funding hurdle”.
And for good reason, more than 900,000 francs were needed to create such a space. “We had to do a lot of work to adapt the facilities,” explains the man behind the restaurant. Sound-absorbing ceiling and floor, indicator lights in the kitchen and dining room, vibrating clocks connected to bells installed on tables or even bay windows to let in daylight. The list is long.
Different forms of disability
“I am pleased to introduce my hearing friend to my world,” says Rachel. The young woman who “hears and speaks well thanks to an implant” thinks it is important to show that “there are different forms of deafness. Some sign, others speak and listen, still others use LPC, spoken and complete language, a code that helps to read lips.”
Beside him, although the noise level had increased throughout the night, his two fellow listeners were still surprised at how little noise was made in the room without music. “We’re used to the hustle and bustle, but for the deaf and hard of hearing, it’s hard to deal with the devices,” explains Marvin. “It’s great that they have a place where they feel good and we enjoy learning things”, concludes Elisa.