Food Market Becomes Hub for Deaf Community

    15 October, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

    Almost 8 million Americans are deaf, or have 'difficulty hearing'. A food market in Washington makes a special effort to serve the needs of deaf people in the local community.

    Thadeus Suggs is a cook at Union Market. He has no trouble taking an order from deaf customers. Communication is easy, because the 23-year-old is himself deaf and knows American Sign Language.

    He began working at Union Market soon after it opened last year. He took a break from studying at Gallaudet University, just across the street from the market. Gallaudet is a university for deaf and hard of hearing students. It's programs are known around the world.

    Mr Suggs explains, with the help of Gallaudet interpreter Carolyn Ressler, what he likes about his job at Union Market.

    "One nice thing is it is so close to Gallaudet, which by the way is the 'Deaf Mecca'. And with that, we are providing services to the Gallaudet community as well as the community at large."

    Thadeus Suggs can read lips and speak with people as well. His boss, Ross Mayhood, says that makes Mr Suggs a valuable communicator.

    "He is probably the most valuable member of our staff. And he has been a big part of how popular we are with the Gallaudet crew."

    Mr Suggs is not alone, about 10 percent of the employees at the market are deaf.

    Another deaf employee, Alena Francis, says dealing with some hearing customers can be difficult.

    "When they find out that I am deaf, it kind of throws them off a little bit. And sometimes they will ignore me and just walk away."

    Cary Barbin is a deaf customer at Union Market. He explains through a interpreter what he likes about it.

    "I love the fact that this is a sign language environment. Many of the employees sign, so I can order my food in American Sign Language."

    The market's user-friendly design also appeals to the deaf community.

    Gallaudet planning director Hansel Bauman urged the developer to build a 'deaf space', a space design to meet the needs of Deaf people.

    "In terms of visual language, [they want] to be able to see one another and communicate clearly while they are walking. What that means is, you're not looking at the path forward. So you need a little bit more room."

    Union Market has lots of light, all the food sellers are in one big space, and the walkways between them are wider than you would find in many other stores.

    Developer Steve Boyle says those features also have a wider objective.

    "The market itself really was meant to be an anchor for the community."

    And that's the Health Report from VOA Learning English.