An Innovative Café in Cambodia
While taking a weekend away from the bustling city of Phnom Penh I visited Kampot, a lazy riverside town. As I wrote last time, what I saw of Southeast Asia—specifically Thailand and Cambodia—did not seem to be the most accessible. Because of this, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Epic Arts Café. The café, founded in 2006, is a place that provides employment opportunities for local residents living with disabilities and as a place to showcase and sell art made by individuals in disabilities.
The café is part of an international inclusive arts initiative that is registered as a charity in the United Kingdom. What stood out to me the most was the menus. Because several staff members are deaf or hard of hearing the café implemented ordering sheets. You filled out what you wanted as a table and then gave the completed form to the server. In the laminated menu, they also included Cambodian Sign Language for guests to learn and try with the staff. Cambodian Sign Language is a young language, its development did not begin until 1996.
In addition to being an inclusive space for employees, Epic Arts Café also served as an inclusive space for guests. Despite it having some small steps to get in (a step up onto the sidewalk and a step at the doorway), there were guests using wheelchairs and with a variety of physical disabilities. All guests were educated about the inclusive arts program and employment initiative by signage throughout the establishment. Epic Creations, the gallery and art shop upstairs, is an additional space to get involved in the initiative.
The café was a wonderful space that supported an equally wonderful cause. The staff were friendly and engaged, and the physical space was cozy and welcoming. To top it all off the food and coffee were delicious!