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'We hope others will follow': Inside Sydney's Auslan-fluent restaurant

Sydney Morning Herald logoSydney Morning Herald 9/06/2018 Mary Ward

Auslan trainer Raian Hoblos (left) teaches sign language to restaurant general manager Virginia Valdivia at Rashays in Punchbowl. © Wolter Peeters Auslan trainer Raian Hoblos (left) teaches sign language to restaurant general manager Virginia Valdivia at Rashays in Punchbowl. By the end of this year, Bashar Krayem expects every one of his staff to be bilingual.

It's a tough ask, but the franchise of Rashays restaurant in Punchbowl says they have been so enthusiastic in their classes, he expects it will happen.

Mr Krayem's 35 employees are studying Auslan, a sign language used by the deaf community and others with disabilities. At the moment, instead of Auslan users communicating through a friend or writing their order down, there is at least one staff member rostered on at any time who can sign.

The classes are being taught by two of Krayem's regular customers, Raian Hoblos and Angela Daniella Tupou.

Deaf themselves, the pair have been teaching staff three nights a week.

"What a great idea, I thought, for people to actually understand me and communicate with me," says Ms Hoblos, adding that she aims to not only teach the staff sign language, but also give them a greater awareness of the deaf community.

For Ms Tupou, part of the appeal of teaching Auslan to the staff was feeling more at ease when she is on a night out.

"Going out becomes overwhelming and becomes easier to be isolated due to the lack of communication and understanding," she says. "This leads to frustration at times so the two worlds – hearing and non hearing – end up being separated and even more isolated from each other."

There are also health risks that arise from the language barrier.

"It's hard to communicate certain allergies I have," Ms Hoblos says. "And [to know] what ingredients are in different types of foods that could cause undesirable reactions.

"There are approximately 30,000 deaf Auslan users in Australia.

Chief executive of Deaf Australia Kyle Miers said he hoped other restaurants would consider taking similar steps to become more inclusive.

"Instead of using primitive communication such as pointing for a meal or drink from the menu, deaf people can communicate with them in own language when ordering food and drinks as well as talking, laughing and learning from each other."

Since starting the Auslan classes, Mr Krayem said the restaurant had seen an increase in diners from the deaf community. Rashays, a chain with 22 restaurants across the country, aims to be a deaf-friendly business by 2019.

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