Deaf fighting PWD stigma in the workplace one scoop at a time

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2018 03:42 PM | Updated as of Aug 08 2018 06:22 PM

Informative materials on sign language are provided for customers. Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- Scoop by scoop, graduates of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde’s School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS) are debunking the stigma of disabled persons in the workplace. 

Like most persons with disabilities, Jordan Docor II, who completely lost his hearing at an early age, would usually be snubbed by mainstream employers. 

Docor and his fellow deaf colleagues, however, are proving the hiring system wrong. For over a year, he has been working at Elait, a rolled ice cream franchise.

"When we started a year ago, we had two abled and two deaf workers. But I immediately saw the deaf staff were more than capable so we moved forward with having an all deaf team," Francis Reyes, CEO of Caravan Food Group, explained. 

Docor has found various means to communicate inaudibly with the hearing audience. Despite the deaf partner's inability to hear and speak, he shared in a message how much he loves interacting with the customers: helping them pick the flavors, taking their photos, and making them smile.

Docor expressed in a message the opportunity to work at the ice cream stall has brought him happiness. According to him, he enjoys preparing ice cream, and is elated when he sees his customers satisfied.

Elait servers Jordan and Ronald pose for a photo. Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

While skeptics might pass off Elait's advocacy as merely a gimmick, Reyes shared that his inclusive agenda was mirrored from his own experience of being marginalized. 

"I try to get people who do not get as much opportunities because I know what it feels like to be at the bottom," Reyes explained.

"I worked a 13-hour shift at a fine dining restaurant in America. I was from a different country, I was smaller, I was Filipino. There was no verbal racism but in terms of their attitude towards me, I felt it," he recalled. 

Reyes, however, reiterates that Elait is selling dairy treats, not an advocacy. The young CEO wanted to remind his clients that while the servers are members of the persons with disability (PWD) community, they should be seen and treated like any other abled staff. 

NOT A CHARITY

Reyes stated that he did not hire PWDs out of sympathy but because they possess just as much potential as their abled counterparts. 

"We are not a charity. We are a business. While PWDs may not have as much opportunities, we did not hire them out of pity. We hired deaf people because I know they are capable. There is no reason to pity them," Reyes declared. 

In just 5 minutes or less, the deaf partners will be able to serve a tempting bowl of rolled ice cream to the anticipating customer -- just as any other abled staff could do. 

Jordan prepares an ice cream order. Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

To order from the hearing impaired staff, clients must simply fill out an order slip. He or she can choose from a range of flavors or build their own from scratch.

For example, after a customer filled out the slip, Docor immediately poured the liquid ice cream mix onto a frozen pan and concocted the artisanal treat in front of the customer.

As the base (a choice of custard or yoghurt) froze, Docor efficiently mixed in the other ingredients such as chocolate and cookies. He then precisely divided the creamy base, neatly scraped it, and arranged into the rolls.

He then carefully (and generously) added brownies, chocolate chips and other delectable treats before handing the very Instagramable bowl to the patron with smile. 

SIGN LANGUAGE

While waiting for the frozen treat, customers have the opportunity learn to communicate simple phrases such as "please" and "thank you" to the servers. Informative materials on sign language are provided in every stall to encourage clients to engage with the staff. 

"It really raises awareness. It gives our clients an opportunity to know more about our staff and to even learn basic sign language," Reyes stated.

Jordan serves ice cream to a customer. Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

According to the food entrepreneur, it only took a week of training before the deaf servers were ready to run the ice cream cart. 

"Our difficulties were the usual operational problems any business would have. But them being deaf? It was never really a problem. If you take one step forward for them and they will adapt," Reyes declared. 

Although an inclusive business' system is different, Reyes mentioned that they have received a lot of support and positive feedback.

"We have not received complaints about their service. There was perhaps one in a thousand but the comment was simply a quick judgment of their condition, parang bakit kailangan ganyan pa kinuha niyo?" he said.

The eager businessman also shared he even preferred working with his PWD employees. 

"These people really show they care about the company. I saw how they really take care of our brand," he said. "I guess since they aren't given a lot of opportunities, they really take care of what they have now. They mirror their happiness in their service and the customers can feel it."

PRODUCT COMES FIRST

Reyes emphasized he started the business with the idea of helping out the PWD community and not the other way around. While being inclusive is part of Elait's agenda, the irresistible confections is what will sustain the business. 

Elait serves rolled ice cream. Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

To survive the grueling food industry, and consequently continue to help Elait's deaf partners, the product must sell on its own. 

"People these days do not want products just because it is famous abroad or because of some gimmick. They look for quality. So the product must be able to stand on its own," Reyes said.

The combination of a creamy thick base, made rich by natural egg yolks and the freshest ingredients the country has to offer, makes Elait a strong contender in the market. 

While the rolled ice cream was originally just a street food in countries such as Thailand and Singapore, the young CEO wanted to introduce the concept to the masses with an upgrade. 

While some competitors use powdered base and artificial flavors, Reyes reassured their franchise crafts their ice cream with premium ingredients sourced locally. 

"We do not use artificial ingredients. Our custard or yoghurt base is made with real milk. For our flavors, we only use fresh fruits not syrups," he pointed out.

Elait boasts of premium ingredients. Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

"When I thought about bringing rolled ice cream to the Philippines, I wanted to elevate its quality it and make it my own interpretation," Reyes said.

He added: "I wanted to have a business that does good. I want to help our partners by providing an opportunity for them to earn. So for the business to last the product must stand on its own." 

Elait's deaf partners are pioneering a new frontier in corporate responsibility. With every bowl of ice cream crafted by the hearing-impaired staff, awareness towards the true potential of the PWD community grows. 

Who knew doing good could be this sweet?