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King's restaurant extends hand to hearing-impaired patrons

| Sunday, March 17, 2013, 1:36 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Emily Gabriel of Slickville, a St. Francis University student, teaches sign language to the staff of King's Family Restaurant near Delmont on Thursday, March 7, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Karen Doran (left), a waitress at King's Family Restaurant near Delmont, learns basic sign language from co-worker Emily Gabriel, a St. Francis University student, during a group class for employees on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

The waitresses fumbled with their fingers for a while, trying to figure out how to sign phrases like “Welcome to King's” and the words Pepsi and Mt. Dew.

“I know. I'm nervous, too,” said general manager Jim Pochedly. “Spelling is a little difficult, but the phrases are simple.”

Little by little, as fellow waitress Emily Gabriel took them through some of the common things they say to customers, the workers gained confidence.

And by March 28, when the King's Family Restaurant near Delmont holds a fundraiser for the Westmoreland Association of the Deaf, Pochedly and Gabriel hope the waitresses will be able to communicate a bit with their hearing-impaired customers.

“They're just going to be excited you can communicate with them,” Gabriel said. “They'll truly be excited that you're learning.”

Gabriel, 21, of Slickville taught about 40 of the restaurant's employees some basic sign language last week as part of a class project.

While Gabriel is a physician assistant major at St. Francis University in Loretto, she minors in sign language. Signing is something she picked up as a volunteer in Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children, just north of Greensburg, where her mother worked.

As part of her sign language class, Gabriel needed to teach basic signing to a small group.

She thought of her part-time job at King's, where hearing-impaired customers sometimes come in, and asked Pochedly if she could teach a few waitresses.

Pochedly loved the idea.

“I thought, ‘Wow, what an opportunity,' ” he said. “Let's go as far as we can.”

Not only did he want all of the wait staff trained, he decided to hold a Dine and Donate event for the Deaf Association so the employees can put their training to use.

The restaurant will donate a portion of the checks on March 28 when association members, their friends or family members present a special Dine and Donate coupon.

Harry Marchese, president of the recently formed Westmoreland Association of the Deaf, said he is delighted with Gabriel's project.

“I am surprised and impressed that Emily is training the staff sign language,” Marchese said. “It is a great opportunity for them to be more involved in the deaf community. We need more interpreters in Westmoreland County, and it is much appreciated when people want to communicate with the deaf.”

He said the donations from King's will help the group's effort to provide a social outlet for the deaf, as well as provide students studying American Sign Language an opportunity to practice and get familiar with the deaf culture.

During the training, Gabriel explained to the staff that the deaf can lip-read only about 30 percent of what a person says, so knowing some sign language is important in assisting with communication.

She taught them typical phrases that they use with customers.

They learned, “Hi, My name is,” and then how to “finger spell” their names using the sign language alphabet.

She worked with them on welcoming customers to King's and asking what they wanted to drink and eat.

They learned how to ask if the food is good and whether they want a refill or a take-out box.

Pochedly said he doesn't expect the staff to have full-blown conversations in sign language.

“If you know how to say, ‘Hi, my name is,' you'll get smiles,” he told the group.

Gabriel worked with one of her professors to put together a DVD of the signs so the staff can practice before the big day.

Pochedly said he hopes the restaurant will make its hearing-impaired customers more comfortable and help Gabriel, too.

“We're taking care of getting her an ‘A,'” he said.

Jennifer Reeger is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or jreeger@tribweb.com.

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