A new eatery on a busy stretch of Toronto's Yonge Street is hoping to teach curious diners about some of the challenges deaf people face daily.
Signs, which had its soft opening Tuesday evening, is staffed mostly with deaf servers. Patrons at the restaurant are encouraged to order their food and drink using a sign language cheat sheet included with the menu.
The restaurant's owner, Anjan Manikumar, says his establishment will likely introduce many people to some of the basics of American Sign Language.
"They will enjoy learning sign language," Manikumar told CTV Toronto. "They'll make some mistakes, they'll have fun -- so it creates an experience for the guests."
The restaurant -- billed as the first of its kind in Canada -- also hopes to help an underemployed segment of the population.
"I think this is one of the largest breakthroughs we've seen in our community in a long time," he said. "We probably have 35 staff (members) working in one place…that's huge for our community."
In Canada, approximately five per cent of Canadians 15 years of age and older have some form of hearing loss, according to Statistics Canada data collected in 2006. Of that population who were surveyed, the agency says 6.5 per cent of them believed they were refused a job due to their hearing loss, while three per cent say they were refused a promotion.
Chandni Sugrim, one of the servers who work at Signs, says although she has never worked in a restaurant, teamwork with his coworkers seem to come naturally.
"It feels like we're a family unit. It's really easy to understand each other," Sugrim said. "Teamwork comes really easily."
The restaurant also employs a team of hearing hostesses for sign language novices. It joins a growing international trend in raising awareness of the deaf community through sign language menus. Similar establishments exist in San Francisco, San Antonio and Paris.
Signs, located at 558 Yonge St., near Wellesly Street East, will officially open to the public next week.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Scott Lightfoot