Break­ing bar­ri­ers, one cof­fee at a time

Auckland City Harbour News - - OUT & ABOUT - TORIKA TOKALAU-CHAN­DRA

Barista Julz Russ has a unique way of tak­ing cus­tomers’ cof­fee or­ders.

The 28-year-old from Welling­ton is a man­ager from Cafe Co-Ed, a deaf-friendly cafe and train­ing en­vi­ron­ment in Welling­ton.

Russ was born deaf, the re­sult of a con­di­tion called con­gen­i­tal rubella syn­drome.

Af­ter years of speech ther­apy, Russ learnt to speak, per­form sign lan­guage and read lips - which is how she com­mu­ni­cates, with the help of a cochlear im­plant.

This week, she helped launch a cafe called CO-OP on the bal­cony of Fairfax Me­dia’s new Cider Build­ing of­fice on Pon­sonby’s Wil­liamson Ave.

CO-OP is de­signed to help im­prove di­ver­sity in the work­place.

Fairfax NZ man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Si­mon Tong said it was more than just great cof­fee at bargain prices and easy ac­cess to caf­feine.

‘‘If we can prove the con­cept over the com­ing days and weeks, then it will be­come a per­ma­nent fea­ture and some­one with a dis­abil­ity, but who is ea­ger and able to make a con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety, will have found a per­ma­nent job,’’ Tong said.

Russ wel­comed the move by Fairfax, say­ing it meant more op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties that oth­er­wise were not avail­able to them.

Russ has worked in the cof­fee in­dus­try for 14 years.

She start­ing off wash­ing dishes in a cof­fee shop in Aus­tralia, be­fore she made her way to the front of the shop.

‘‘The first time they al­lowed me to make cof­fee for oth­ers was on a Saturday - the busiest time of the week,’’ Russ said.

‘‘I think I made over 900 cof­fees and I re­mem­ber my boss be­ing so proud of me af­ter my shift.

‘‘It was so en­cour­ag­ing to get that re­ac­tion.’’

Russ said the big­gest prob­lem peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties face is not be­ing able to ad­vance in their jobs.

For sev­eral years, she learnt the tricks of the trade but was al­ways passed over for a man­age­rial pro­mo­tion be­cause of is­sues around com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

She only be­came a man­ager two years ago, a role she says she could have got when she was 19.

‘‘I love it when peo­ple throw me in the deep end be­cause that’s how I learn the best. I make mis­takes but I learn.

‘‘I’ve had to learn to do things dif­fer­ently and it’s made me re­alise that I can still do things; like mak­ing cof­fee re­ly­ing on my other senses than just hear­ing.’’

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