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KFC in sign language

Sunday, December 25, 1994, 0:00
Section: Egypt, Journalism

Originally published in the December 25-31, 1994 edition of The Middle East Times. The sometimes stiff or odd phrasing should mostly be attributed to copy editors with varying commands of the English language. Still, no one of any nationality can suppress my pathological need to end stories with a quote.

Wester fast food restaurants are becoming increasingly common in Egypt, particularly in the more affluent areas of the capital. But there is a new KFC restaurant in Dokki that is unique, for hte reason that it is staffed entirely by hearing-impaired employees.

For many of the 28 employees at KFC, this is the first job they have ever had. Their enthusiasm shows as they eagerly sign a greeting to customers: a raised hand with the thumb, index and little fingers extended, and the middle and ring fingers clenched, meaning “I like you” in American Sign Language, which is used internationally among the deaf.

But even for those who have had other jobs, the work here is an entirely new experience, for instead of being hidden behind the scenes, they now work directly with the customers.

Not all the employees can lip-rad, and few hearing customers know sign language, so the restaurant uses menus with large photos and captions in English and Arabic, which customers can point at to order. The system works, well, and causes a lot less confusion than is often generated between Arabic speakers and foreigners who know just a little of each other’s languages. In addition, Americana, the company holding the KFC franchise, has a full-time on-site sign language translator.

When Americana general manager Ibrahim Al ALfi came up with the idea of having a restaurant run by the hearing-impaired, he was surprised to learn that KFC already had one such restaurant in Malaysia. He promptly dispatched his restaurant division manager, Adel Hussein, to Southeast Asia to study the Malaysian operation. Americana has more profitable restaurants, but Hussein says that, in this case, the company has a different bottom line.

“It’s totally and 100 percent to healp deaf and hearing-impaired people and to prove they can work like normal people,” he says.

The location at 9 Al Saad Al Ali Street was chosen, Hussein says, because the company believed the quiet, upmarket area would be accomodating towards a restaurant run by the handicapped.

Americana’s enthusiasm is shared by the government, including Prime Minister Atif Sidki, who officially opened the store.

“After I finished school, I couldn’t find a job until I got work here,” signs cashier Yasser Abdullah, 23, who, like many of his fellow employees, learned of the job through a deaf support organization. “I never dreamed I could get a job like this, with an all-deaf staff. I always figured I would be the only deaf one.”


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