Islamabad’s Mughal Market is home to a one of a kind cafe. Abey Khao cafe is unique because it was designed for those with disabilities, particularly the hearing impaired.
The managers at Abey Khao are deaf but don’t let that fool you. Just step inside and see how they strive to make everyone feel included. Oh and don’t worry if you don’t know sign language. Because you will learn, with a very helpful graphic adorning the restaurant’s walls. In a matter of seconds, you will be acquainted with signs for ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘thank you’.
That was easy. And then you come to the ordering part. You get a menu in sign language as well, and its a nice touch.
But fear not, they also have all the English alphabets in sign language painted on the walls. Talk about learning something new!
Customers are encouraged to place their orders using sign language. According to the owner Sheikh Faizan Raza, he started Abey Khao so that people who are hearing impaired could be provided gainful employment.
“The main reason behind this initiative is to provide an identity, a sense of independence and livelihood opportunities for the deaf community as we are discriminated against in Pakistan and treated as if we are sons of a lesser God.”
He was inspired to open the cafe by his father, who is also deaf and made his living as a tailor. His father could hire people from the deaf community and Faizan decided to follow in his footsteps.
While younger customers help the management challenge discrimination against those with disabilities, Faizan and his staff have been subjected to harassment as well.
“When we are working or just standing outside [the cafe], people from nearby shops come and make fun of us.”
Accessibility for the Deaf Community
According to the World Health Organization, 5% of the world’s population is affected by some form or degree of hearing loss.
In Pakistan, there have been efforts by the government to improve accessibility of opportunities for the disabled community.
All provincial governments are now required to introduce quotas in government jobs for the disabled community. Recently the Sindh provincial assembly introduced free travel for those with hearing impairments and waived fees when applying for a driving license.
Similarly, the National Assembly of Pakistan drafted a bill to end discrimination against people with disabilities. The draft is currently with the human rights committee.
No doubt all these are positive initiatives. Yet Abey Khao‘s harsh experiences are a stark reminder of how initiatives can only do so much when bias towards disabled people still exists.