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Friday June 29, 2007

KFC outlet with a difference


KUCHING: At first glance, the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant at Jalan Khoo Hun Yeang in the city centre here looks like any other KFC outlet in Malaysia.  

Customers come in and out, and order their meals at the counters. And they are warmly greeted by the service staff. 

Fine service: A deaf and dumb waiter at the KFC outlet in Kuching serving food to visitors by using sign language.
However, the sign language alphabet, carved as a decoration on the walls, tells you that this is not a typical KFC outlet.  

Customers are not greeted by the normal shouting of orders among the staff. Instead, they communicate with each other in silence, accompanied by vigorous hand movements. 

The 168-seat Saujana KFC outlet, which started operations 11 years ago, is manned by a special group of hearing and speech impaired staff.  

It is the only KFC restaurant in Sarawak, and the third in Malaysia, which employs these less privileged people. The other two outlets are in Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. 

Supervised by three managerial executives, the 27 hearing and speech impaired staff members run the Saujana restaurant’s entire operation in the busy business district. 

Officer-in-charge Regina James, who is well-versed in sign language, oversees the day-to-day operations. 

KFC, the country’s largest fast-food chain, gives equal training and promotion opportunities to this disabled group based on merit and work performance.  

The longest-serving employee, Junaidah Ismail, is a good example. She worked her way up to become assistant manager. 

Junaidah’s colleague Ting Hing Tsung climbed up the career ladder the same way. He is now shift manager, eight years after he was employed as a waiter. 

“I am happy working here as I have made many new friends. It is a challenging job, but I like my work,” said Ting, 23, using sign language. 

Ambitious Ting said he was aiming for a higher post. 

KFC Sarawak Sdn Bhd marketing manager Kenneth Lim was all praises for the group, saying: “They are a hard-working lot.” 

He commended their determination in not letting their disabilities get in the way of leading a productive life. 

And how do Lim and Regina manage this special group? 

“They read your body language and facial expressions.  

“It is important to get the correct message across so that they understand what you mean. If not, there will not only be miscommunication, but also repercussions.  

“If this happens, they will not respond positively to anything you tell them. In the end, they may not even turn up for work.” he said. 

As the deaf live in a silent world, Lim said visual aids and certain gadgets have to be used to alert them in their work.  

“For example, when the chicken is cooked, we use a flashing light to alert them.” 

Lim said it would help to interact regularly with the group to understand their needs and feelings, and make them feel like an integral part of a big family, because they were very close-knit. 

Regina also gave the thumbs up for the group, crediting them for high productivity and good teamwork, which was on par with normal employees.  

However, she said they felt stressed at times, particularly when they had to handle many customers coming in at one time.  

She added that although some of them had quit because they could not take the work pressure, they had come back as they found the KFC outlet was the best place to work. 

“Several employees come from poor rural families. Besides being independent, they provide financial support to their families,” said Regina.  

Lim said by giving them jobs, KFC was integrating them into the working community and teaching them to deal with challenges in life. 

“It is our way of paying back to the community,” he said, adding that the company worked closely with the Sarawak Society For The Deaf, which runs sign language classes for his staff.  

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