Deaf Kentucky
Fried Chicken!

by Dan Brubaker

as featured in the May 1998 issue ofDeafNation


If you wanted to apply for a job at this particular Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, you will have to be deaf (or speech-impaired). Yes, hearing people cannot apply there - for the last 12 years! No kidding! Where is that anyway? None other than Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It is the first KFC in the whole world that is run by the hearing-impaired (hey, don't shoot me, I'm only quoting them) and speech-impaired employees. It was established after Tan Yap, a hearing advocate, managed to convince the restaurant chain to set up an establishment where deaf Malaysians could have an opportunity at a job (because deaf Malaysians were, and still are regarded as "inferior" or "unfit" for a basic entry-level job position). Major newspapers and television stations in Kuala Lumpur announced the grand opening of the "deaf" KFC in 1986.

This "deaf" KFC (which was relocated in 1992 after the first location was sold to a car dealership) is at #210 Jalan Ipoh, 51200 Kuala Lumpur. And sixteen full-time and four part-time deaf employees are split into two shifts (10 per shift) from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The restaurant itself is open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily. And most of them also get free lodging (with a reduced wage) within a walking distance.

The assistant manager, Kuan Min Fai, has been working at the KFC for the last 16 years, and he was the first deaf employee. He is regarded as a person who knows everything about KFC, from frying chickens to repairing equipment as well as hiring and firing employees. He dropped out from school at tingkat 3 (similar to 9th grade) and had been working at KFC ever since.

Fai explained that communication difficulties are rarely encountered because hearing customers would point out pictures of food and drinks on laminated placemats (in Malay on one side, and English on another). Fai also explained that business has always been good, with a continued stream of customers on a daily basis all year around. He admits that the business was better at the earlier store, because of its busy downtown location. The current store is still within the city, but a little bit further back from the downtown scene.

Because of the successful venture with that "deaf" KFC, the restaurant chain established two more "deaf" KFCs in 1996, on the island of Borneo (in which half of it belongs to Malaysia). One store is in Kuching, the capital city of the state of Sarawak and another is in Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah. Don Monjohi says that there are 6 full time and 7 part time deaf employees who are supervised by 4 hearing managers at the Sabah KFC. He said, "This 'deaf' KFC does not make it a full deaf restaurant. The deaf employees occupies the lower rung of the ladder, and the staff turnover is about 1 to 3 deaf employees per month."

Despite the hearing management and high turnover rate, KFC is probably one of very few places where the deaf people could "easily" gain entry-level employment experience in Malaysia. And with Malaysia being declared as a developed nation recently (rather than as a developing, or second world country), those same deaf Malaysians hope that one day there will be a deaf manager at one of those KFC establishments.