Customer Service for the Deaf: Break the Barrier

Image result for fast foodA story was recently covered by The Daily Moth about a Deaf couple that was teased by KFC employees in Byram, Mississippi. After the couple noticed the store was drive-through only, they communicated verbally over the loudspeaker that they would pull ahead to read the lips of the employees. The staff proceeded to cover their mouths and laugh at the poor couple. Their daughter, Donna Curtis, eventually made a viral video about the mistreatment. She not only expressed her disgust toward the humiliation by the staff, but even claimed their behavior was discriminatory. 

Most deaf people don’t experience issues of this magnitude when ordering their burgers and chicken. However, many restaurants simply don’t know how to help a deaf customer (especially those that are non-verbal, and/or don’t read lips). The employee will inevitably get a “deer in the headlights” look, or simply try vainly yelling at the individual. If you’re ever in this situation and want to avoid such an interaction, here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Sign!
    The best way to help a deaf customer is to learn some basic signs. Work at KFC? You’ll probably want to learn the signs for chicken, potatoes, mac ‘n’cheese, etc. Even a little bit goes a long way (and impresses the customer!) ASLdeafined can help you out with that… 
  2. Look directly at the customer and speak at an even pace/tone.
    This should be done regardless, but sometimes it gets busy and you inadvertently rush through or mumble your lines. This makes it much harder for deaf customers that lipread to understand you.
  3. Always repeat yourself if asked.
    Common courtesy applies to the deaf, too. Lipreading is not an exact science, and repeating things may be required to ensure accuracy.
  4. When in doubt, write it out.
    Sometimes that language barrier gets tricky, but luckily there’s always the option of hand-written notes. Remember that the extra time is worth it and means a lot to the customer. (Tip: Learn the “feed” option for your register tape for quick scrap paper, and keep a pen handy!