Giving Deaf Youth The Tools To Strive

The unfortunate fact is that the deaf are often marginalised. iCan Disability Academy was launched to better the lives of its students. This small training café based in Durban North is manned solely by the deaf with students learning about the hospitality trade in a one-year course.

Learning hospitality and life skills to enable a living

Amanda Clyde, a graphic designer, who is herself unable to hear, is the course facilitator. Students gain both theory and practical experience and learn how to run a business; how to deal with customers; handle accounting; prepare food and all students also work in the café, where they serve hot dogs, hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, and sell soft-drinks and sweets. They also gain skills such as learning more words and operating a computer; calculating stocks required, drawing up lists of things to buy from local shops, and keeping till slips. Records are handed to the centre so that profits and losses can be monitored – just like any business.

Disability Connect caught up with Amanda to find out about how this initiative was started and what lies ahead for iCan Disability Academy.

Karishma Kallichuran, left, Phumla Mkhize, Ntombizonke Ngcobo, Siphiwe Chiya, Snenhlanhla Mdletshe, and their teacher Amanda Clyde converse in sign language Source: Sunday Tribune.
Establishing the iCan Disability Academy

When her children were old enough and she has more time on her hands, Amanda was offered the opportunity to apply for a job to help teach deaf learners about cleaning. Although this didn’t sound all that interesting, Amanda remembered Richard Brandon’s words“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later”.

So she rustled up a CV, did her interview which included a presentation in sign language, and much to her delight a few weeks later was told that she had the job. And far from teaching deaf students how to clean, the job was in fact to teach learners how to run a business. And she loves it!

Amanda only teaches deaf or hard of hearing people and to date has taught approximately 9 students per year since the academy was established.

The main challenges facing deaf people in the workplace

“I have found the biggest challenge is that hearing people haven’t accepted the deaf community completely. I find that it is because they don’t have the time to be patient, understand or learn to communicate in different ways such as writing on paper, showing them how to do it or typing on the cell phone. There are many ways to communicate, we live in a technology world after all. We understand and see more than you think. Deaf people can see, follow and do,” Amanda says

New job opportunities for the deaf

Amanda says she knows of students from her academy and other learning programmes who are now working at Woolworths, Checkers, Mr Price, Dis-Chem, she knows of others who have barista jobs and some who are working as chefs in hotels. She agrees that opportunities for the deaf are definitely growing.

Are South African companies becoming more open to the employment of disabled and deaf people?

“Yes, they are, but slowly. I find that it is not quick enough. At the end of the day, we have the right to an education and jobs. Deaf people can work really hard because we are much more practical than theory-based people. We can see, follow and do and follow visual instructions better than written instructions. Hotels would be a great place for deaf people to work at because there is a lot of practical work there,” she says, and cites examples such as working in the kitchen, cleaning the rooms, clearing away in the plates and laundry work. She says that there are many practical jobs all over the South Africa.

“Companies just need to have more faith in the deaf community. Companies need to have the passion and understanding toward the Deaf. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people often experience discrimination throughout their everyday life. People need to learn the word EQUITY – the quality of being fair and impartial. Deaf people are so friendly and funny. If people just take the time to get to know them, they would learn something new!” she says.

Improving the social and economic lives of the deaf community

“We cannot go backwards, we have to move forward and fight for our right to a job and education,” Amanda emphasises and says that even with the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, we need to encourage understanding and compassion towards the deaf community and support them even more.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the iCan Disability Academy has had to close but they hope to resume in 2021.

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