Fritz Wood, owner and general manager of the Rock N Roll Hotel on H Street Northeast, signs out the drink order for a Red Bull and vodka. In this photo, he is signing "bull."
Even though it’s helpful for a bartender or server to know how to sign, it isn’t necessary. Enthusiasm, consideration and a friendly attitude can also go a long way.
“We don’t require a lot — it’s not that we require anything,” Sirvage said. “Just eye contact. And if you don’t know sign, be gestural, throw gestures out and learn to be more flexible.” Local ASL teacher Chelsea Lew agreed.
“Small gestures like saying ‘thank you’ or pointing or trying to grab my attention or the hearing person next to me is always a big plus,” she said in an email.
Some bars have gone even further in trying to win over deaf customers. During its recent renovations, the Rock N Roll Hotel made sure to install two 18-inch subwoofers directly beneath the disc jockey’s booth. The restaurant’s dance music is especially loud to accommodate the deaf customers, who feel the vibrations.
“The first time I danced with a deaf person, he was the best dancer I’ve ever danced with,” Bumgardner said. “They can name the songs just from the vibrations. It was the loudest party I’ve ever been to, too.”
The District government is also helping. It has sponsored a $25,000 grant for the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and H Street Main Street, a large part of which will go toward free ASL classes for employees and owners of restaurants, bars and businesses in the area.
The 10-class “crash course” in ASL will start in July, according to Swiller, who has worked as the Gallaudet liaison for the project. Eight classes on specific sign language will focus on vocabulary and sentences that are particularly helpful in the service industry, and two of the classes will focus on deaf culture and history. Gallaudet helped locate fluent signers to lead the classes.
“We’ll give a lot of discussion time to things to be aware of,” Swiller said. “It’s OK to tap someone on the shoulder to get their attention. It’s not OK to scream at them when you’re standing behind them.” The classes have been greeted with “extreme enthusiasm” from local businesses, he said.
“There’s a lot of curiosity in ASL and in the deaf community in general,” he said. “There’s also a desire to have greater attraction. There’s a bottom line that with greater attraction in experiences, we could increase traffic at local businesses.” The classes were suggested by local business owners at a board meeting earlier this year.
Only minutes after the Twitter announcement that the classes might be held during the summer, area businesses were responding with enthusiasm and inquiring about signing up, according to Julia Christian, executive director of the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals. About 12 businesses have signed up, with more expected to join.
“This is a way to bridge the communication gap and bring everyone together,” Christian said. “It’s important for the community to talk about it, to understand how to understand one another.” Swiller is confident the classes will help the businesses as much as they help the students.
“Making that effort to learn some signs is a very warm introduction or a very warm opening,” he said. “To make that effort, it’s a step towards making people feel more comfortable and willing to come back.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson appears at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church on M Street Northwest for a pre-rally before a march to the White House to protest what is seen as President Barack Obama's lack of action in addressing a variety of problems in black communities.
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