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Deaf Awareness Week

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As the UK marks national Deaf Awareness Week, Peter Cunningham, a head chef for Restaurant Associates, shares what it was like growing up with deaf parents with Compass Group’s Ability network.

Tell us about your family.

My mother was born deaf and my father experienced complications after contracting whooping cough at the age of two. My parents met at deaf school over 60 years ago and have been married since 1976. Growing up with deaf parents felt very normal to my siblings and I (an older brother and a sister) and I very much relied on having my older siblings to support with learning vocabulary and being taught about everyday things.

As children we were able to sign before we could speak, which is an amazing thing as we were able to communicate things via sign language before we learnt how to vocalise them.

Describe your lived experience.

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Having parents who cannot communicate with the outside world was the norm for us and we accepted the fact that we would have to help with speaking on their behalf and translating what people were saying.

It was very clear to see that especially 20 years ago technology was not accessible to the deaf community – being in a time before text messages, meant my parents would use a minicom to communicate to their friends.

Watching television with subtitles or closed captions was just the norm, as was reading through paperwork on their behalf – there was not the opportunity to learn in the same way when my parents went to school. Even now they still find it difficult to understand official letters or messages and things need to be broken down.

As my parents get older, the need to care for my parents’ health is increasing, resulting in me attending hospital appointments with them to act as a translator.

How has your experience shaped your adult life?

Growing up with deaf parents, and now having an adopted son with autism and ADHD, has certainly shaped me to be far more understanding and accepting of difference. It motivates me to be as inclusive as possible and ensure my team has people from different backgrounds and abilities.

I would absolutely love to have team members from the deaf community working with us and simple adaptations would have to be made – but it would be so beneficial.

What would you say to people about being more inclusive to the deaf community?

In terms of how we can make our Compass family and our customers more deaf aware is to continue enlightening them to the deaf world and sharing experiences. Teaching people to sign and interacting with the deaf community would be invaluable and will close the gap between the hearing and deaf communities.

Being deaf can be incredibly isolating – deaf people can feel left out of all plans, the funny jokes, the gossip and just hearing the outside world. One of the most difficult things is to learn a new language and often it is the fear of getting it wrong or being embarrassed. If we can teach hearing people to be understanding and to try and make deaf people part of their world, then I believe we would achieve a little miracle.

Peter joined Restaurant Associates in June 2006 as a Commis Chef and is now Head Chef of a large site within Canary Wharf. In 2020 with his husband of 10 years they adopted a 6 year old boy. During the week Peter, with the help from his sister and niece, have taught over 600 people how to sign their name in return for a sweet treat!

Compass Group

We are Compass Group UK & I, tens of thousands of talented people that provide expert catering, cleaning, vending, and facilities management services to a range of clients and sectors across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. We believe that the little things make the world of difference and it’s our privilege to deliver great tasting food, memorable experiences, and vital support services for our clients as they host and entertain guests and boost the wellbeing and productivity of workers across all sectors. We’re here to inspire, protect, nourish and energise people and guests. Brightening everyone’s day with exceptional service – that’s why we’re number one in the UK & I for catering and support services.

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  • Compass Group

    We are Compass Group UK & I, tens of thousands of talented people that provide expert catering, cleaning, vending, and facilities management services to a range of clients and sectors across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. We believe that the little things make the world of difference and it’s our privilege to deliver great tasting food, memorable experiences, and vital support services for our clients as they host and entertain guests and boost the wellbeing and productivity of workers across all sectors. We’re here to inspire, protect, nourish and energise people and guests. Brightening everyone’s day with exceptional service – that’s why we’re number one in the UK & I for catering and support services.

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