Some people with mental disabilities in Lithuania routinely spend their time indoors, shielding from the still-common insults and abuse they receive from the public. One cafe in Vilnius, however, is challenging the prevalent stigma.
Pirmas Blynas cafe in Vilnius, a Lithuanian play on words meaning ‘first pancake’ (or the first try), was founded by Tim Van Wijk and employs only people with mental disabilities.
Vaidotas, who works at the cafe, says he used to spend a lot of time at home. “It was lonely, but now it’s better – now I can venture out into the city, and it made [life] easier for me,” he says.
Everything started with practice, remembers Dominykas, who also works at the cafe. “Communicating with people was the first step; I go up to the door, and say hello,” Dominykas tells LRT.
Although sometimes he struggles to speak quietly, and it can be hard to express himself clearly, says Dominykas.
In such cases, cafe founder Van Wijko reminds him: “Speak more quietly, don’t shout”.
It’s a far cry from how he was treated in professional environment previously, according to Edvinas, another employee with mental disabilities.
During his studies, others “smeared my hair with paint, but I survived, and now everything is okay,” says Edvinas. Today, he’s proud that not a single plate of pancakes has fallen out of his hands.
When speaking with a person with mental disabilities, remember:
- All people with disabilities are different
- Devote time to get to know each other
- Speak with the person itself; don’t underestimate him or her
- Be concrete, and avoid using abstract phrases
- Don’t underestimate someone’s abilities
- Relax; look at the person, and not his or her disability