MEMBERS of the deaf community in Jamaica are singing praises for Burger King and Popeyes for what they describe as a “brave and bold move” in hiring deaf persons in the Restaurant Associates Limited (RAL) quick service franchises.
The RAL Deaf Crew Project began in 2020 in collaboration with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf and the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD), and currently boasts over 20 deaf crew, now full-time employees across the island.
Sharmadine Brown, technical service officer at the CCCD, had high praises for the “awesome partnership” and lauded RAL for “taking on what many other businesses would not”.
Brown said that the RAL experience shows that once a company is open to accepting deaf workers, success is assured. Recounting “negative responses from many other companies”, she congratulated RAL for “taking this initiative to make the deaf feel included”.
“The deaf can be proud of who they are as a result of this model, and I wish many other companies would follow suit,” she declared.
CCDC Principal Rhonda Hamilton Davis was equally enthusiastic and noted that RAL helped them “to actualise our mission to reach, teach, and nurture in an inclusive environment which enriched RAL, the CCDC, and the deaf community at large”.
Patrice Harvey, a participant in the RAL Deaf Crew Project, and now employed at Burger King, Ironshore, says she has come a long way from the “awkward first days at Burger King” when she did not know what to do or what to expect, and is thankful to trainers and colleagues for their patience.
“I am enjoying working and socialising with the hearing and teaching them sign language,” she said.
Rayon Smith got over his early “culture shock” and learnt to communicate with his hearing colleagues, while Dwayne Sewell was “shocked to see that hearing staff members could sign and respected the deaf. I like that”, he declared.
Carmen Gibourne, BK trainer, described working with the RAL Deaf Crew as “the most valuable experience” of her life, teaching her greater patience and further honing her communication skills.
Restaurant manager Janet Collins said, “They are easily curved, have the most pleasant and enthusiastic personalities, and there is no limit to what they can learn.”
Garth Sommerville, Burger King district manager, St James, and Margaux Swaby, executive assistant and special projects manager to Lisa Lake, CEO — the duo spearheading the RAL Deaf Crew Project — are revelling in its success.
“The journey has been a blessing for a company which embraces everyone from all walks of life, genders, and social backgrounds,” Sommerville said.
“We started with five persons as a test run and now we have over 20,” he added. “This project shows that not only America understands how to work with special groups; Jamaica also has the capability.”
Swaby, in turn, called the experience “a beautiful, organic journey”.
“We adapted, we learned. We have deaf persons at Burger King and Popeyes, and we have a vision for them to advance into management positions. This project has become the heart and passion of every department of the company.”