Helping the hearing impaired

Scarborough Tim Hortons branch first to install Order Assist

The discomfort felt by people with hearing or speech impairments when ordering at food joints might soon be over — at least in some spots.

The Tim Hortons branch at Kennedy Road and Hwy. 401 is catering to its hearing- and speaking- impaired customers to ensure they feel more welcomed and at ease, store manager La Shown St. Louis says.

Owned by disability advocate Mark Wafer, the branch is Canada’s first Tim Hortons to have a device installed for customers with special needs.

Order Assist has since been installed in Wafer’s four other Tim Hortons stores in the GTA. It’s also proven helpful to people with language barriers, such as immigrants or tourists.

“Usually with customers that have hearing deficiency or something like that, they have to come inside the store if they want to order,” St. Louis said.

“But with this device installed for the drive-thru, they don’t even have to come inside or get out of their car.”

Order Assist allows customers ordering in drive-thru lanes to press a button and inform staff they have either a hearing deficiency or language barrier.

Employees are alerted through a signal in their earpiece and a light that turns on inside the store.

Customers are directed to pull up to the window, where they receive an Order Assist form to write their orders.

Regular customers receive several forms at once to save time.

“It’s not just much easier for them, it’s much easier for us, too,” said employee Michelle Munawa.

“When the order is written down for you, there’s no miscommunication.”

Munawa recalled serving a customer with speech impairment before the device’s installation.

“[The customer] had a hard time placing his order, all while the lineup behind him grew,” she said.

“Sometimes, you don’t know how to communicate with them.”

Employees had to undergo several training sessions before the device was set up.

“We learned that you have to know how to be patient with them, and not cross their personal boundaries,” St. Louis said.

The store does not only extend special accommodations to customers, but to potential employees who may have disabilities themselves.

There are many people with disabilities who have been employed at the Kennedy branch.

“We really believe in giving everybody an equal opportunity,” St. Louis said.

“It’s the right thing to do.”