Ordering Fast Food, Deaf Style

When a person who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing goes to a fast food restaurant, they face one of their greatest daily challenges. When restaurant employees don’t know sign language, the person with deafness or hearing loss has to find a way to communicate. Recent lawsuits include the denial of the right of people who use sign language to communicate the way they need with restaurants. Some fast food restaurant employees have taken the matter into their own hands–and learned to use them for American Sign Language with customers.

Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell drive thru with several cars in line.
Eating at Taco Bell has been a challenge and a blessing for the Deaf Community, depending on where you live. photo credit: Phillip Pessar KFC Taco Bell Combo Miami via photopin (license)

Opposing Views reports that Gina Cirrincione filed a lawsuit against Taco Bell when a drive-thru employee refused to accept a written order from her at the window.  According to the report, “The employee told her she needed to place her order at the start of the drive-thru and to come inside the restaurant next time.”

The lawsuit claims this is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Picture of a McDonald's restaurant showing a drive thru
The McDonald’s drive thru offers convenience to most customers, unless you can’t hear. Then the experience changes. photo credit: dw_ross 20160703_091828 via photopin (license)

A 2016 similar situation occurred with a customer who was Deaf at McDonald’s. It resulted in employees calling the police when they didn’t understand why he was texting them his order, WOWT News reports.

In fact, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission sued McDonald’s in 2015 for not providing a sign language interpreter.

According to the agency’s press release, “When the Belton restaurant manager learned Washington [the applicant] needed a sign language interpreter for his job interview, she canceled the interview and never rescheduled it, despite Washington’s sister volunteering to act as the interpreter.”

The Deaf Community will definitely “Eat Mor Chikin” if they can order in sign language. photo credit: Southern Arkansas University Chick Fil A Grand Opening 10.30.12 via photopin (license)

Some restaurants have employees who know sign language. Two Chick-Fil-A customers were stunned when an employee at the cashier used sign language with them.

According to an ABC 7 report, “For the first time in her life, Cynthia Walker, a 20-year-old deaf woman, was able to order her meal at the restaurant on Raeford Road by signing.”

The customers were so pleased at the employee signing with them that they posted a video on Facebook, making the employee, Taylor Anez, a viral sensation.

Cleveland’s News 5 reports that a young man working for Taco Bell used sign language with a customer when they had difficulty ordering.

Caleb Francis said, “He wanted a side of salsa and sour cream but he didn’t know how to order a side of salsa and sour cream, and then we just kind of started communicating through that.”

Francis had studied sign language in high school.

Many fast food experiences for people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are inside, because communication through a sound-only ordering device excludes them from participating.

Today News reports that a Florida Starbucks is giving an equal opportunity to access the drive thru, by providing video access and staff who know sign language.

Picture of a Starbuck's restaurant
When your Starbuck’s barista knows sign language and you can order by video in the drive thru, that’s accessibility!

Rebecca King, who was a regular Starbuck’s customer, was excited when one day, she was greeted by her barista in sign language at their drive-thru.

“It is a big deal to (the) deaf community that Starbucks has one now. Nowhere else has that!” King told NBC affiliate WTLV in Jacksonville. “We all want to have that at every drive-thru in the world.”

Providing accessible restaurant experiences benefits everyone.

Caleb Francis, the employee from Taco Bell, said he may have the greater reward.

“I think the biggest misconception about this is people say oh you probably made his day like so much easier and all that stuff…but what people don’t understand is it’s just exciting for me to get to sign to people as it is for anybody else…so when someone says oh I sign, it’s like Oh!, it’s just so exciting to me.”

Would you like to share the love and learn some sign language?

Try these online lessons that have videos with students.



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