‘Anew’ opportunity as a barista

A perfectly brewed cup of coffee is a big drawcard for visitors and guests to hotels and for Phumzile Mazibuko, the barista from ANEW Hotel in Hilton, making the perfect cup of coffee is where she gets a chance to come into her own!

Phumzile, who has been deaf since birth, is the hotel group’s first deaf employee. Thanks to CIRO Coffee Academy Barista Project initiative and eDeaf, Phumzile from Ladysmith, has found her niche in the bustling hotel. CIRO provides training and employment for baristas working in internationally accredited coffee shops and have now made it possible for the hearing-impaired to qualify as baristas.

Disability Connect spoke to Kevin Burley, Group Operations Manager at ANEW Hotels, about their involvement in this initiative.

What was your and the staff experience of this initiative?

Our coffee supplier, CIRO, trains eDeaf Baristas. I saw two of these Baristas in operation at CIRO’s office and immediately loved the project and wanted to get involved as it spoke to our values and culture.

What did this project involve??

We came up with our own plan for working on this project, where the first step was to find the right person. eDeaf sourced us some potential candidates, which our Group HR Manager and myself interviewed. This was the first step in our wonderful journey of discovery. Through the interview process we found Phumzile, a wonderful bright, charming and funny lady.

The second step was training Phumzile as a Barista and then the training of our team to understand how we needed to adapt to working with a deaf staff member. CIRO conducted the training of Phumzile, along with two buddies, current staff members who we wanted to be there with Phumzile for every step of her journey. Then eDeaf provided training on interacting with a deaf member of staff, and also teaching us sign language. The entire management team, Group HR Manager and myself attended this training.

It was awesome seeing every one of the management team embracing this initiative and responding in such a positive manner. Some of us even communicate using sign language in the hotel when it is busy, and we can’t shout across the reception/restaurant.

Phumzile also attended our ANEW Induction programme, using an eDeaf interpreter, ensuring she understood our values, culture, history and terms of her contract.

The final step was Phumzile actually working in our coffee bar. CIRO produced a bar top menu with the sign for each coffee and we also included a photo of Phumzile with her introducing herself as a Deaf barista. This was very important as our guests do not know that she is Deaf and if she is facing away from them, she won’t hear them when they ask for something. We have now included a torch on the counter so that if she is facing the other way making a coffee you can shine the torch to get her attention. These are little things that we have had to think about. At first, she was lacking a bit of confidence but working alongside her buddies helped her get over this and she now runs her shift on her own.

What was your and the staff experience of this initiative?

The experience has been incredible for all our managers and staff. We have had to learn new things and communicate in a new way. I do believe that this has spread over to all our hearing staff and made us all better communicators. The two buddies we awesome in the early days, as they supported her training, but more importantly kept a watchful eye on her. They also assisted her with finding the right taxis to get to and from work and even travelled with her on her first few days making sure she was safe.

Do you feel the South African hospitality industry is open to these types of initiatives to empower people with disabilities?

I don’t think it is about a sector, it is more about the individual business. If you are really people centric and believe in your team and their contribution to the business, then you should be able to have any person with a disability working for you. In the hospitality industry, we have so many different types of jobs and are always on the lookout for employees who enjoy working with people and can make a difference to a guest’s experience. Many people with a disability are able to do that, so yes there is a place for people with a disability to have a long and rewarding career in the hospitality industry.

Are there any other projects of this nature in the pipeline?

Yes, we would like to have a deaf barista in each of our properties and are talking to eDeaf about taking on employees for other departments such as Housekeeping, Maintenance and Kitchen. There is lots of planning and thinking to do but we will make it happen.

Phumzile went on to win the HITEC Award for Courage in recognition of her ‘ability to adapt and take on new challenges and surroundings, as if it were second nature to her – and always with a smile’.



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