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  • Chris McMillan

Across China: Silent cafe brews opportunity for hearing-impaired


3rd August 2022

Across China: Silent cafe brews opportunity for hearing-impaired

Coffee shops are cool, but in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, a newly opened cafe is known for its warmth.

Barista Li Sha is busy making a cup of cappuccino, with a lovely aroma of coffee filling the air. She bends her thumb twice, a gesture meaning "thank you" in Chinese sign language, as she hands the coffee to a customer.

Li, 37, is among seven hearing-impaired staff in the new Starbucks outlet in Xi'an, which is specially equipped with a speech recognition system at the counter, dual-sided food order touch screens, and handwriting boards. The system, screens and boards allow the hearing-impaired workers to communicate face-to-face with customers with ease.

Li was born with a hearing impairment. She tried multiple jobs including working as an art teacher, a dancer and a clerk after graduating from Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts. But none of them could turn into a long-term career.

"When I taught children drawing, I failed to arouse their enthusiasm because I can't speak.

Communication was always the main problem hindering me from excelling in any job," Li wrote on a piece of paper.

However, she refused to give in to fate. Three years ago, Li came across a job advertisement for baristas. She decided to give it a try. Due to her hearing impairment, Li encountered more difficulties than she had expected while learning to make coffee, and later in her daily work.

"Being a barista is by no means an easy feat. Having no experience in the industry, I didn't even know that different types of coffee need different proportion of espresso, syrup, ice cubes and milk," she wrote.

After a process of diligent practice, Li has mastered skills of making all coffee drinks.

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