Order in sign language at this inclusive cafe

Miss Suzana Slemat (left), 19, and Miss Shazlina Sulaiman, 20, hope to raise awareness of the challenges of the deaf community in Singapore through their cafe.
Miss Suzana Slemat (left), 19, and Miss Shazlina Sulaiman, 20, hope to raise awareness of the challenges of the deaf community in Singapore through their cafe.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

It may not be on the menu, but inclusivity is something heavily promoted at Puzzles SG cafe in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

If you order in sign language, you get a 10 per cent discount.

Even if you do not know how to sign, there is an instruction board at the counter to encourage you to give it a try.

Miss Suzana Slemat, 19, and Miss Shazlina Sulaiman, 20, hope the novel incentive will raise awareness of the challenges of the deaf community in Singapore and help people appreciate sign language.

The duo, who met in secondary school, started the cafe in April this year after winning a school competition where they pitched the idea of the cafe and received a space in school and a $5,000 grant to start it.

They both graduated from Ngee Ann in May this year, and are taking a gap year to run Puzzles, which specialises in pizza bombs - pizza packaged in a sphere of dough.

They also employ deaf workers at the cafe and hope to promote inclusivity through the eatery, which will be featured in the fourth instalment of The Best of You movement.

Started by biscuit and snacks brand Julie's, this initiative gets people to reflect on and appreciate experiences that have brought out the best in them.

The theme this year is "People First", which encourages understanding and appreciating those in marginalised communities, such as migrant workers and people with disabilities, through exhibitions and activities held this month and the next.

Understanding and using sign language can break down barriers between the deaf and those who can hear, said Miss Suzana, who has seen deaf people having trouble communicating with service staff.

"When I went up to them and used sign language, their faces would light up. They would get excited and sign so quickly because finally someone understands them, and I would have to ask them to slow down," said Miss Suzana, who started learning sign language in secondary school out of curiosity.

She said that after learning the language, she saw the importance of helping others to appreciate and understand the language.

Said Miss Shazlina: "We hope that as people start to familiarise themselves with sign language, they will start seeing signing as a norm and not stare when they see others using it to communicate."

Almost 60 per cent of the cafe's customers use sign language when ordering. Some regulars can even sign their orders from memory, said Miss Shazlina.

Most patrons are students and school staff, but people from the deaf community sometimes visit the cafe and say they appreciate a place that "speaks their language".

"They're able to order in sign language here, which might be a challenge elsewhere. Hopefully, this will also raise public awareness of the challenges of the deaf community here," said Miss Suzana.

The cafe is just starting to break even, and its founders have plans to run it for at least two years at Ngee Ann before considering expanding to other tertiary institutions.

"One of the objectives is for those who are deaf and those who are able to hear to come together and have shared experiences through visiting and working at this cafe.

"We hope to bring this message to other schools or institutions in the future as well," said Miss Shazlina.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2017, with the headline 'Order in sign language at this inclusive cafe'. Print Edition | Subscribe