Staff Voices: Signs of Change in Yangon

The Able Café is the first social enterprise in Myanmar that employs people with a hearing impairment, who communicate in sign language.

At first, it seemed like just another review of a new local café by a Facebook friend. But the name and concept of the café caught my attention. It is called “The Able” and it is run by people with disabilities.

Located in a small room in downtown Yangon, it was easy to miss without knowing about the place. There were clues, as if it were a game to try to locate the place.

The first clues were sketches of two hands at the bottom of a dark stairway. As I ascended the steps, a sign, scrawled on the wall said, “The Able, Sign Language Book Café, Embracing differences, Empowering inclusivity”.

The café only employs people with a hearing impairment. It was founded by Myo and three friends on a shoe-string budget. To communicate with staff, he and his friends learned sign language.

Slowly, they heard stories of challenges faced by people who only communicated in sign language: the waitress who lost her job because she was unable to explain a mishap; the young man with an incredible talent for art but was unable to attend school.

While I was there, a customer arrived. He conversed fluently in sign language. I watched him place his order and noticed that the staff were exchanging more than just the details of his order. The faces of the staff lit up and I was enthralled at their rapport. Here was inclusivity taking place and the feeling of empowerment by the sta was pafflpable.

Myo told me how important it was for the staff to feel a sense of belonging and non-discrimination.

The Able Café leaves no one behind. Here was diversity without fanfare- the Sustainable Development Goals in action. The concept of employing people with disabilities is not new.

This was the first social enterprise in Myanmar that employed people with a hearing impairment and who communicated only in sign language. The concept was new, and this was a beginning. The Able Café was a sign of things to come for people who communicated in sign language.

UN entities involved in this initiative
International Labor Organization
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Health Organization