Deaf barista Thabo Mokhele does what he enjoys best, making coffee. Picture supplied
“DEAF and dumb” and “can’t do anything” are just some of the hurtful associations and assumptions people often make of deaf people.

“People think we can’t do anything... they use the word dumb to insult us and we aren’t thought of as people. All because we cannot hear, yet it’s untrue, we can do everything a hearing person can do,” said Judith Madi, Gauteng provincial director at DeafSA.

Approximately 4 million South Africans are deaf or have a hearing impairment, with many of them remaining unemployed due to the stigma attached to their disability.

The weekend marked the end of International Month for the Deaf.

During the month of September, deaf people around the world stood together to break the stigma surrounding deafness.

“Employers have this misconception that hiring deaf people would be expensive because they have to employ a sign language interpreter as well but that’s not the case. There are many ways you can communicate. And a lot of deaf people could be good at jobs such as data capturing,” Madi said.

Since 1990, DeafSA has been advocating for the inclusion of sign language as the 12th official language in the country.

Now it seems the completion of such legislation is merely the president’s signature away from realisation.

“There have been some delays in Parliament, but the good news is that now they are making sign language an official language. This will change a lot of lives because it will make communication with deaf people easier. For instance if a deaf person wants to open a bank account, they can go to a branch and information will be available in sign language,” Madi said.

Deaf barista Thabo Albert Mokhele, 39, said working in the service industry wasn’t any easier or harder than it would be for a hearing person; it was simply more “interesting”.

Mokhele lost his hearing when he was 8 years old.He grew up in Welkom and, following the deaths of both his parents, moved to Johannesburg to find work.

Mokhele completed his barista training at the Ciro Coffee Academy (CCA) and has served coffee fans at SPAR Bean Tree in Hobart, Bryanston, for over two years.

CCA has designed its specialised coffee courses to accommodate deaf barista trainees into its programmes.

Trainee baristas are taken through the prestigious Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) modules, which develop their skills.

After completing their training, the CCA also assists with the employment of deaf barista graduates through its network of clients, to help them launch their individual careers.

“Working at a coffee shop is a wonderful experience. I am happy when I can serve a customer a hot cup of coffee made with love. One piece of advice for young deaf people would be: 'Believe in yourself, perseverance pays off,” he said.