Kind Ice Cream, located on 76th Avenue in Edmonton, had staff learn ASL (American Sign Language) in a move to be more inclusive to their deaf customers.
Employees were taught basic ASL, as well as the importance of facial expressions, deaf culture, inclusion, and communication preferences of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, whether that be speech or signing.
“We landed on this idea of a two-hour workshop and then a fuller training video that we can reference as we’re practicing and getting more comfortable and familiar,” store manager Izzy Bergquist said on Edmonton AM.
When Bergquist began managing Kind Ice Cream, she observed customers who are deaf or hard of hearing struggling to communicate, especially once wearing masks became mandatory in August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I realized the small amount of communication with lip reading, although it’s imperfect … was taken away from us,” she said. Actually, through the workshop, Bergquist learned that only 30% of language is traceable through lip reading.
Amorena Bartlett, an ASL workshop facilitator, told CBC she was delighted when Kind Ice Cream reached out to her in October.
“Because this was an opportunity to educate the general community about how to be truly inclusive and understanding the world of the deaf and hard of hearing,” Bartlett, who is deaf, told CBC via text.
Bartlett said the deaf community often get a different reaction from the public compared to a hearing person who speaks a different language.
“When you’re approached by someone with an accent that causes a bit of communication difficulties, your first instinct is to adapt and that includes more gestural and pointing to things,” she said.
“For some reason, it does not happen with people who are deaf and hard of hearing. People tend to stop in their tracks, almost like a deer in the headlights because the communication is not verbal.”
Bartlett stressed that people need to realize that sign language is actually a language, just as French or Italian are languages.
Although Bartlett has not been approached by any other businesses, she hopes Kind Ice Cream’s initiative causes “a ripple effect and more businesses will be interested in doing this.