Empowerment through employment: MGI’s mission to the Deaf community

It was an ordinary day at the Teriyaki Boy branch in SM Mall of Asia: meat sizzled from the kitchen, and the sound of silverware clinking rang all around as diners ate. However, what stood out from this restaurant were the staff, some of whom distinguished themselves from other employees as they wore small tags that read, “Hello, I am deaf.”

In line with the annual Deaf Awareness Week, Teriyaki Boy and Sizzlin’ Steak under Max’s Group, Inc. (MGI) hosted an event last November 11 spotlighting the importance of providing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities (PWDs), especially members of the Deaf community. Two notable partner institutions present were the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS) and the Leonard Cheshire Disability Philippines Foundation, Inc. (LCDPFI), upholding their organizations’ respective commitments and sharing a similar advocacy.

The values of inclusivity, diversity, and respect are principles that these organizations stand by as they provide concrete opportunities to and advocate for the rights of the Deaf community.

A collaborative effort

As the country’s prime education institution for deaf Filipinos, SDEAS fosters holistic growth for its students through the provision of “academic programs, formation programs, and building fortified partnerships between the Hearing and Deaf communities,” as stated in their website. 

In line with the goal of building the culture and identity of Filipino Deaf community, SDEAS collaborated with Teriyaki Boy to provide employees with extensive training, ensuring they could develop the skills necessary for a demanding work environment. 

The LCDPFI is also no stranger to working with PWDs. Established through the help and effort of its UK-based counterpart, Leonard Cheshire Disability, LCDPFI stands at the forefront in advocating for the Deaf community’s rights in the country, ensuring that the rights and needs of the Filipino Deaf community are met to uphold their well-being.

John Amante, Chief Operating Officer of Teriyaki Boy and Sizzlin’ Steak, is one who shares in the said advocacy, relaying that the initiative began two years ago when they considered accepting members of the Deaf community as potential employees. He recalls thinking back then, “Why don’t we try hiring [deaf people]?” 

Two years later, the impressive results of the program meant that deaf employees could be fully integrated within the MGI’s system, as Amante went on to describe them as “very productive” individuals.

Building relationships between management and customer

The inclusion of the Deaf in the restaurants’ workforce prompted select Teriyaki Boy and Sizzlin’ Steak branches to distribute American Sign Language Alphabet Charts as guides for the customers to interact and communicate with them.

Marvin Pagtalunan, one of the deaf employees working for Teriyaki Boy, was enthusiastic in describing what it was like working for MGI.

“The managers as well as the employees, we teach them how to communicate. We’re so happy that they are eager to learn,” he shares through the help of a translator. “Communication is not a problem at all. For example, if we have hearing customers—the Deaf are strong about their identity—we simply write for us to communicate, and [they] can understand that.”

The customers write back, too—building a connection with the deaf employees, customers often give “love letters” containing personal, heartfelt messages to express gratitude and appreciation toward the service provided. Moments like this go a long way in creating a respectful and empathetic environment between the hearing and deaf.

A bright future ahead

MGI, in partnership with SDEAS and LCDPFI, continues to uphold their mission in offering labor opportunities for PWDs, particularly in the Deaf sector of society, as manifested in the number of deaf people working under the provision of the corporation. 

Pagtalunan hopes that other corporations would follow in MGI’s footsteps to offer equal opportunities and better incorporate PWDs within the organization. “I’m strongly advocating for the Deaf community and, hopefully, there [are] more and more companies that can hire PWDs,” he says.

When asked about the long-term vision of MGI with regard to their initiative, Amante emphasizes that people ought to see PWDs as being more than just their disabilities. “They are able to contribute to society, they are able to contribute to their families, they are able to contribute to themselves,” he affirms. “Throughout their lives, they have been looked down upon, and it’s about time that we treat them as equals.”

Joaquin Luna

By Joaquin Luna

One reply on “Empowerment through employment: MGI’s mission to the Deaf community”

Leave a Reply