Breaking barriers, one coffee at a time
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.’’