By Janet Tappin Coelho
A deaf man has bucked the trend, overcoming obstacles and challenges, to open his own business with an inspiring workplace initiative that breaks new ground for people with hearing difficulties.
Breno Oliveira’s ice cream bar, il Sordo, in Aracaju, north east Brazil, is the first outlet in the South American country where the majority of his staff are deaf.
Mr Oliveira, 24, who was born with full hearing loss, came up with the idea of opening and running the unique parlour after becoming frustrated at the employment opportunities open to deaf people.
He decided to challenge the perceptions of what workers with impaired hearing could do by striking out on his own and proving his disability was not a limitation.
Mr Oliveira said: “The idea was to create something that would be inclusive for everyone. il Surdo, happens to be a bar run by deaf people. But it is a shop selling tasty and delicious desserts for everyone.”
Silent chatter at the counter between staff and customers includes a variety of gestures such as pointing and signalling at the choice of flavours and scoops; using uncomplicated finger work to indicate the quantity and portion size cups; giving the thumbs up to confirm orders and offering salutes to say thank you and goodbye.
The ice cream expert continued: “We’re finding that customers are getting used to and even learning how to make visual communication with us.
“Many are finding it a fun and informative way as part of their customer experience. Some have started learning basic signing after coming in regularly to buy our desserts.
“We offer valuable contact with the deaf culture and show that deaf citizens can communicate and be understood no matter the situation.”
According to research by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IGBE) in 2000, approximately 5.7 million people in a population of 200 million citizens suffer from total deafness and hearing loss.
The young entrepreneur said his ice cream business is opening a new frontier for the deaf. Five out of his seven workers are deaf.
The dessert store, which benefits from year-long hot weather due to its tropical location, sells a range of handmade milk based gelatos and ice lollies made from the natural flavours of exotic fruits found in north east Brazil.
Flavours range from mango to Sapodilla (a tasty shell covered fruit) to guava, peanut and Jabuticaba (a purplish black, white pulp sweet berry).
All the sumptuous, dense and rich creamy frozen confectionaries are manufactured on site using the traditional Italian technique, which is famous for making the best ice cream in the world.
The young businessman, who admitted he didn’t know initially what sort of store he wanted to set up, revealed the dream of owning his own company drove him on to find a suitable venture for his entrepreneurial spirit.
He said: “I had to travel thousands of miles to Sao Paulo in south east Brazil to train in the craft of making Italian gelato.
“My father, Jose, came with me and acted as my interpreter on the course. Although he isn’t a professionally trained interpreter he did his best to pass all the training information onto me which included how to run the business.
“It was the biggest challenge of my life but I’ve proved that it’s possible to overcome communication barriers and to motivate society to look differently and with more respect at deaf people.”
il Sordo which means deaf in Italian, has already won a loyal customer base from sweet-toothed deaf and hearing customers.
Mr Oliveira added: “Besides giving deaf people employment I want to make the best ice cream in the world here.
“And while I’m doing so, I’m hoping my business will inspire and serve as a reference for others,” he said.