Disabled baristas brew self-esteem
It could have been any typical Seoul coffee shop scene last Tuesday afternoon, as Lee Eun-jin, 31, brought a hot cafe latte to a customer seated at a table.
“Enjoy your coffee, ma’am,” Lee said smiling.
However, this cafe was actually just a mock-up in a small studio apartment in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, and the customer was actually her teacher. Lee was participating in a simulation as part of a barista training program for women with developmental disabilities.
The Ministry of Gender Equality began the free 10-week program in October in a bid to help the disabled become more independent. Ten women with disabilities, including Lee, are currently participating in the program three times a week.
Lee was introduced to the program by the Seoul Community Rehabilitation Center. Since graduating from high school, Lee had spent most of her time cooped up at home, with a radio as her only friend. However after beginning the barista course, she has turned over a new leaf.
As well as learning some practical skills, Lee has thrown off her shyness and become more expressive than ever. As she starts talking about coffee, her eyes begin to twinkle. Lee is now focusing on her new dream – to run a small coffee shop of her own with her mom.
Like any other able-bodied folks, disabled people also harbor simple desires to have a job, stand on their own feet and socialize with others. However, due to strong prejudices and barriers, education and job opportunities remain elusive.
For Moon Ga-eun, an 18-year-old with Down syndrome, the coffee making process – from grinding the coffee beans to brewing the drink to a customer’s taste – proved a big challenge. After repeated trial and error, however, Moon has gradually taken to the process. When making coffee, Moon focuses her all attention on what she’s doing.
“Though they are slow due to their physical handicaps, if enough time and attention is paid, the disabled are also capable of doing a job which they find interesting,” said Hwang Myung-hyun, a director of the Seoul Community Rehabilitation Center who is in charge of the program.
A job also serves as a window through which the disabled can communicate with the world. Bae Ji-eun, a 23-year-old with autism, is clumsy when it comes to communicating with others and keeps silent most of the time. After watching last year’s hit Korean drama “Coffee Prince,” however, her interest grew in the duties of a barista.
Having joined the barista training program, Bae is now able to make 10 different kinds of coffee. She recently passed the Korea Coffee Education Society written exam to become a qualified barista, and is now busy preparing for the upcoming practical test.
Bae’s once-expressionless face now wears a big smile.
By Kim Eun-ha JoongAng Ilbo
autism meets coffee in korean article22 12 2008
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