German-run bakery witnesses China's growing care for deaf-mute

Put your thumb up and slightly curl it down twice. In Bach's Bakery, this is how frequent patrons say "thank you" to shop assistants.

Put your thumb up and slightly curl it down twice. In Bach's Bakery, this is how frequent patrons say "thank you" to shop assistants.

In this "silent" bakery in the central Chinese city of Changsha, the word "welcome" is more seen and felt, as most employees here are deaf and mute.

Uwe Brutzer, who owns the shop, will sometimes emerge from the kitchen to introduce the bread to first-time customers using fluent Chinese.

The 51-year-old German national and his wife Dorothee Brutzer have run the bakery for about a decade, employing and training deaf-mute bakers to open them up to new career options.

In 2002, the couple arrived in Changsha to work for a deaf-mute children's assistance project funded by a German civil charity organization. Realizing the group's plight in the job market, they opened the bakery in 2011.

"Deaf-mute people can work and support their families just like anyone else," Brutzer said. "Instead of relying on others' mercy, they can work and make friends freely. I think this is what 'xiaokang' (moderately prosperous society) implies."

The establishment now has six deaf-mute employees and has trained 20 other deaf-mute bakers who are now working at other bakeries.

Despite being located in a secluded alley, the bakery and its cause have become extremely popular. Both the local government and clients have helped publicize their work.

"One guest introduced us to a famous TV program in Hunan, and after the COVID-19 outbreak, Chinese friends sent us masks," he said. "I feel warm with so many Chinese friends, which is why we have chosen to stay here."

Amid China's efforts to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, more favorable policies were rolled out to benefit the disabled population, the German couple has noted.

Dorothee Brutzer said deaf children in China's remote rural areas used to lack rehabilitation to prevent them from becoming both deaf and mute, a primary reason why they came to China.

"Now, government subsidies have allowed deaf children to obtain hearing aids or have cochlear implants in a timely manner. Even deaf children from poor families can get timely treatment," she said.

Uwe Brutzer also testified to a more friendly society for people with disabilities.

He has witnessed a bygone era when some Chinese parents feared that wearing hearing aids might bring shame and discrimination to their hearing-impaired children, an attitude fading away amid the increasing public knowledge of the devices.

"Now, many parents feel free to take their hearing-impaired children out to play. Wearing hearing aids no longer makes them feel uncomfortable or surprises others."

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