In 2014, the American Community Survey discovered that 47 percent of Deaf people are unemployed. Deafness comes with a variety of challenges, and one of the largest is finding a career and place of work that accepts Deaf individuals. Thinking of occupations for Deaf or hard of hearing applicants brings up the idea of writers, painters, sign language teachers, and other jobs that don’t require speech. One occupation that doesn’t necessarily come to mind is chef.
Becoming a Deaf Chef
David Uzzell is a 28-year-old saucier, or sauté chef, working at Marcel’s in Washington D.C. He graduated from Galludet University, a university known for its programs for the Deaf and hard of hearing, in 2012 with a degree in history. With little idea of where to turn for a job that would accept him, Uzzell learned of Union Market. This food court is popular within the Deaf community because of the number of retailers who work with Deaf individuals. Uzzell found a job as a dishwasher and worked his way through the system. He attracted the attention of Robert Wiedmaier, owner and chef at Marcel’s and soon began his work at the restaurant.
Communication in the Kitchen
Working in a kitchen requires constant communication among staff members. Who is chopping what ingredient, who is using which stove, and who is moving through the kitchen ready to serve food? These are just a few of the questions chefs need to be cognizant of when working as a team to produce food. Marcel’s previously employed a Deaf chef, so Wiedmaier was less concerned about communication and more preoccupied with producing delicious food.
Uzzell is able to express his thoughts through a notepad, texting, lip reading, and hand signals. Instead of yelling to get his attention, other staff members poke him or wave, using their physicality to get him to notice. Another popular method employed within kitchens is a laser pointer. This helps Deaf chefs alert to orders, and allows them to more specifically express themselves. Working within an environment as the only Deaf person can be challenging, but there are ways to work around the issue and productively add to the workplace.
Benefits to Deafness in the Kitchen
While there are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive of deafness in a restaurant, there are also a few benefits to cooking without hearing. The number one benefit is an attention to detail. Without the distraction of talking or music, Deaf chefs can focus completely on the task at hand and produce the best possible work with a smaller chance of flubbing an order. The second benefit actually involves communication. Instead of making assumptions about what is needed, Deaf chefs are required to spell out directly what they need and what is expected of them. The lack of grey area can make the kitchen stronger and work better as a unit.
Future for Uzzell
The highest praise for Marcel’s would be Michelin star recognition, and this is something Uzzell strives to achieve. Uzzell proves that Deaf people can be an asset within any workplace, and despite having to make some adjustments; there is no reason to be anxious hiring a Deaf applicant.