La Cuchara is participating in the 'Hearing Hospitality' initiative by the Baltimore HASA

BALTIMORE, Md. (WMAR) - Changes are coming to La Cuchara restaurant in Baltimore, ones that you may not easily notice.

The Baltimore Hearing and Speech Agency, or HASA, is rolling out its new 'Hearing Hospitality' initiative, an effort to make restaurants more comfortable for the hearing impaired. La Cuchara is the first restaurant to sign up.

Erin Stauder, the executive director of HASA, wants to be clear these changes won't be major.

"The fear of restaurants is we're going to come in and say 'Make it quiet, turn all of the lights on and shut down the atmosphere'," she said. "What we need people to realize is that's not what we're saying."

Instead, Stauder is asking restaurants to make small changes, ones that are inexpensive or free. It can be as simple as writing down the day's specials instead of the waiters' saying them, or seating people in specific areas.

"We know if a person who is hard of hearing can sit with their back against the wall, then they don't have to worry about sound coming from all directions," she said. "They know that everything they need to attend to is coming at them from the front."

Stauder also suggests that waiters not block their face with their notepad and hostesses ask customers when they're making a reservation if anyone in the group is hard of hearing. She says these little things can greatly improve a person's experience when eating out.

"Its about making sure there are multiple ways that an individual who is hard of hearing can get the messages that are being sent to them," Stauder said.

Employees with HASA held a brief meeting with the staff at La Cuchara to go over these techniques, and manager Michael Farace is eager to see how it makes a difference to their customers.

"There's a lot of people out there who may just be uncomfortable with a place that they know is loud," he said. "Its just finding ways to make everyone feel welcome and be as comfortable as possible while they're dining. That's our goal." 

HASA is hoping to expand 'Hearing Hospitality' to restaurants in Baltimore and Howard counties for their restaurant weeks, as well as D.C.

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