As the city of Chengdu in southwest China wakes up to another boisterous workday, a little-known food delivery company starts its businesses in silence.
Clad in bright orange, black and pink T-shirts, a team of 28 begins to receive orders, cook, pack and deliver dishes across the city. During the process, however, most employees barely raise a murmur.
“Eighteen employees of my company are speech or hearing-impaired,” explained Deng Rubin, who is in charge of the company named Chanaishanshi.
As a food delivery woman, gestures, a pen and a notebook, as well as smile, are the language of 25-year-old Xu Mei, who was born without the ability to hear.
Xu worked at Deng’s restaurant after she graduated from college. She is offered free meals, accommodation and a monthly salary of 3,000 yuan (around 436 U.S. dollars), a relatively good job for disabled employees in Chengdu.
“Sometimes I meet unfriendly customers, but I kept smiling at them,” Xu wrote on a piece of paper. “When they understand my condition, they apologize and encourage me to face my life, live it and enrich it.”
Why hire deaf-mute people as food delivery workers? This is a frequently asked question from diners. Deng said he was inspired by his daughter.
“My daughter said the physically disabled have the right to work and integrate into society. They cannot always rely on their parents,” Deng recalled. “So why not offer them jobs they can be qualified for?”
In March 2017, Chanaishanshi was set up under the support of the local government. However, things did not go as easily as he had expected at first.
Unable to communicate verbally, silent food delivery drivers often received complaints from consumers for reasons such as “being late,” “forgetting to bring chopsticks,” or “putting in the wrong fruit.”
To help them, Deng rejected orders from individual diners. Instead, his company mainly focuses on orders from certain firms and organizations.
“My staff only need to memorize the fixed delivery routes and be familiar with the traffic signals along the routes,” he said. “In extreme weather, they are not allowed to launch service for safety reasons.”
He also invited experts to train his staff, set food standards and assign people who can speak to contact consumers.
Disabled people have far fewer chances for employment, but things are improving.
Since 2016, Chengdu has helped 396,500 disabled people find jobs or start their own businesses, government statistics showed. By the end of 2018, more than 9.48 million registered disabled people have found jobs nationwide.
For the speech and hearing impaired, a job does not merely mean a source of income but dignity and reaching thier dreams.
“Like others, we have to fight for our lives by ourselves. This platform offers me a way to realize my value,” Fan Heng, who became deaf-mute at the age of two, typed on his phone.
Fan used to be a worker in a local package plant. But on the food delivery team, he feels “a sense of belonging.”
Besides a sense of belonging, He Wei, 22, is pursuing his dream here. He raised the burner heat to high and stir-fried diced chicken with soy sauce, peanut and pepper.
He, who can neither speak nor hear, aspires to be a chef. Under the guidance of current chef Wu Jinpu, he is able to cook authentic Sichuan cuisines, such as spicy diced chicken with peanuts and spicy beancurd.
“I am a slow learner, but I will work hard on cooking,” he typed on his phone. He wrote down every cooking procedure, the amount of seasoning and the stir-fry times in his notebook.
“What cooking needs is heart not voice. He is a diligent student,” Wu said.
Deng plans to increase more food delivery stations this year, offering more jobs for the disabled. “For them, tolerance and patience are more important than mercy,” he said.