Edmonton ice cream shop learns sign language to be more inclusive to deaf customers

·2 min read

It's a very sweet story!

An Edmonton ice cream shop arranged for its employees to take an American Sign Language workshop to be more inclusive toward its deaf customers.

On Sunday, employees at Kind Ice Cream, on 76th Avenue near 96th Street, learned not only basic sign language but also the grammatical roles of facial expressions, about deaf culture, on how deaf and hard-of-hearing prefer to communicate, whether it's speech or sign, and the importance of inclusion.

"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.

The employees will also have access to a video specific to the ice cream shop to help staff interact with customers when it comes to explaining flavours, sizes and prices.

Bergquist said her background in arts and theatre made her more aware of the deaf community.

When she started at Kind Ice Cream, she noticed customers who are deaf and hard of hearing struggled with communicating, especially after masks were made mandatory in August 2020 in Edmonton 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.

From the workshop, Berquist learned only 30 per cent of language is traceable through lip reading.

Amorena Bartlett, an ASL workshop facilitator, told CBC she was delighted when the business approached 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.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing people often get a different response from the public compared to a hearing person who speaks a different language, she said.

"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 deaf and hard of hearing community. People tend to stop in their tracks, almost like a deer in the headlights because the communication is not verbal."

People need to realize that sign language is still a language, she said.

"For a business to recognize that language and the culture behind it, it speaks volumes to the community," she said.

She said she has not been contacted by other businesses but hopes Kind Ice Cream's initiative creates "a ripple effect and more businesses will be interested in doing this."