Emerging from her silent world

Being deaf is just a minor disability if you have what it takes to be a great employee.

16-year-old Paula Aparejado is doing work experience at the Mail Exchange Hotel in Bourke St and has already been earmarked as an employee.

She was born deaf but, according to hotel manager Nici Nicholson, has got more than enough drive and intuition to compensate.

“When you come across a young person who takes the initiative, you want to hang on to them,” Ms Nicholson said. 

“Paula is amazing.  Once she got over her first-day nerves, she was up and running.”

Paula is in year 11 at the Victorian College for the Deaf in St Kilda Rd and wants to be a chef when she leaves school. 

She is working both front-of-house and back-of-house during her stint at the Mail Exchange.

Mail Exchange chef Graeme Krause introduced the Hospitality & Leisure Management group to the deaf school. 

Mr Krause has been working with the school for eight years, preparing students for the workforce.

He said hospitality was just one area of work where deaf people could excel.

“We’re looking for employers from all walks of life to give these kids a go,” Mr Krause said.

In the case of deaf chefs, he said kitchens could be modified with strobe lights and vibrating pagers.

“Visual cues are the key,” he said.

“With a few simple modifications, there is nothing stopping deaf people in the work force,” Mr Krause said.

Paula has a Cochlear implant and a hearing aid, but relies primarily on lip-reading to understand what is being said to her.

As you could imagine, this is a challenge when taking food orders for a table of diners.

Ms Nicholson said: “The response to Paula from customers has been unbelievable. And having her around has given our other staff another dimension.”

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