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What Inspired Me to Open a Cafe That Employs People with Speech & Hearing Impairments

Sahib Sarna is an everyday hero who started cafe Echoes in Delhi. He is inspiring Uber's latest campaign, ‘Go Get It With Uber’ which showcases stories of unstoppable Indians who have challenged the status quo.

What Inspired Me to Open a Cafe That Employs People with Speech & Hearing Impairments

This article has been sponsored by Uber

We all dream with our eyes closed but only a few dare to dream with their eyes open. This is a rare breed of dreamers who have a promise to keep — to honour these dreams and work hard to make them come true, no matter the obstacles. Until then, every day is just a journey to reach their destination.

Sahib Sarna is one such dreamer who is working day and night to create an inclusive environment that sparks joy and excitement in people while helping many feel a sense of empowerment. And he is doing so through a unique café called Echoes (now known as Echoes Living Room), which employs individuals with speech and hearing impairments. He started this venture in 2015 along with two of his friends, Shivansh Kanwar and Sahil Gulati.

It was a deep sense of dismay and disappointment that led him to open Echoes.

He explains that this is a feeling that many uninspired professionals feel today. They struggle to wake up every morning with a sense of purpose, as their bodies resign to the idea that they are about to spend yet another day working on something that would have limited to no impact on people’s lives. A lack of vision in their regular lives is what he says leads the way to the death of motivation. Sahib and his partners were once inflicted by this feeling that was draining their potential, every single day. They wanted their work to matter and dreamt of creating a legacy of positive impact.

“We were passionate about food, culture, and hospitality and began to think of ways in which we could do it all while also creating a positive impact on society. We need food for our souls and to get that we need to do something that is empowering and meaningful,” shares Sahib, who quit his job as a finance professional to start Echoes with Sahil and Shivansh.

Starting a positive legacy

With its speech and hearing impaired staff, the café endeavoured to create an inclusive and accessible space where human interaction was not limited to conventional verbal language but was established through connection and empathy. Through an array of unique techniques, the founders came up with ways in which customers could easily and effectively communicate with the staff and leave with a special experience locked in their memory.

“When we started in Delhi’s Satya Niketan area, a lot of people, although supportive, were also apprehensive about how much this could work. It is because the hospitality and food business is largely reliant on verbal communication, something that servers with hearing or speech impairment cannot engage in. But, we aimed to change that perspective and prove them otherwise. And we are doing that using placards with common requests and comments from customers, codes written beside each item in the menu that needs to be written on a notebook placed on the table to register order, and decor with alphabets in sign language, etc. The best part of all of this is when we see customers being enthusiastic to learn sign language from our team and interact with them proactively,” Sahib adds. At Echoes, they have now installed a switch beside each table that will help customers efficiently call or alert servers about their requirements.

Talking about how Echoes is different from other establishments hiring disabled individuals, he highlights an important point. “While it is great to see more establishments coming forward to hire disabled individuals. But, it is also important to see if they are being welcomed in a truly inclusive, positive and accessible environment. Hiring them just to tick a diversity box is tokenism that helps no one. At Echoes, we aim to do the opposite by dedicating our efforts to creating an environment of motivation for all, including the staff and customers. We are constantly innovating and finding new ways to employ at the café that will improve the experience and enable a seamless process, which makes one’s time, both the staff and customers, at Echoes, enjoyable and memorable,” he adds.

Echoes is currently run by a team of 16 disabled employees, one of whom is Saif Ali Khan, who has been working there since 2016. “I manage the finances, the whole server process of different locations of Echoes Living Room cafe and also train the new recruits, especially those with hearing impairment. Back in 2016, I got to know about this opportunity from a friend and things have taken a 180-degree change for me since then. I’m more confident, and self-reliant and most importantly, I have a job that makes a difference in society. This is a space that encourages you to grow and learn new things every day, and at present, I’m learning to make delicious cold coffee shakes and mocktails and I love it!”

Although before the pandemic, around 80 people were working at Echoes, which was then an emerging brand with branches in Bengaluru and Kolkata, post-pandemic things have changed. They had to shut down a number of branches including those in Bengaluru and Kolkata and had to work on overcoming a slew of challenges. “But challenges like this only make us stronger and motivate us to realise how important this work is. Now we are back on our feet stronger than ever,” adds Sahib.

This brave act by our everyday hero Sahib was the inspiration behind Uber’s latest campaign, showcasing stories of unstoppable Indians who have challenged the status quo. Uber India aims to make its platform accessible to millions of resilient aspirers in India who are constantly striving to fulfil their ambitions and make life better for themselves and their loved ones. With their new campaign, ‘Go Get It With Uber’, they are paying a tribute to the indomitable spirit of resilient aspirers like Sahib, Shivansh and Sahil by highlighting their real stories.

A film called Cafe Delite, inspired by the real-life story of starting Echoes, talks of a young man with a speech impairment who fights numerous obstacles in life and finally gets a job as the manager of a cafe.

Hard-working, intelligent and a resilient aspirer, this man’s inspiring journey sparks joy and hope in all our lives, a feat Uber India wants to achieve through this initiative.

Celebrating the indomitable spirit of unstoppable Indians, the campaign also adopts the tagline “Bas Socho aur Chal Pado” in a bid to drive home the ease of commute provided by Uber Auto and Uber Moto.

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