Starbucks promote We Sign Cafe (BSL)

Starbucks Baristas raise awareness of Deaf culture through We Sign Café

It’s not uncommon for customers visiting London’s Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf Starbucks to sign “good morning” and “thank you” as they place their orders. It’s part of the payoff from an ongoing effort by the store’s manager, Toro Manca, and his fellow partners (employees) to promote Deaf awareness through a program called We Sign Café.

A meetup of partners, customers and others, We Sign Café is hosted by Deaf baristas Manu Sulaiman and Haytam Lakb, who provide instruction in British Sign Language as part of the monthly sessions. Sulaiman, who is studying accounting and hopes to become a store manager, was hired in 2015. Lakb, an aspiring actor, became a partner in 2016.

“Manu and Haytam are so proud to be given the chance to share the language and culture, not only to our partners, but to our customers,” Manca said.

A 15-year Starbucks partner who joined the company shortly after he arrived in London from his native Italy, Manca began to study British Sign Language six years ago after interacting with a Deaf customer. He received funding for sign language training from Starbucks.

After he became manager of the Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf store four years ago, Manca conducted a coffee tasting attended by Starbucks chairman and ceo Howard Schultz. Inspired by a conversation with Schultz, Manca made recruiting Deaf partners a priority. We Sign Cafe, which was developed last year, represents his next step in building knowledge of Deaf culture.

Customers who participate in We Sign Café enjoy using their sign language skills to place an order or extend a greeting. Hearing partners have also embraced the program and the store’s emphasis on inclusion for the Deaf community.

“To improve Deaf awareness is so simple,” said Manca. “We just need to adjust the way we communicate.”

“Think about the skills that people have, not that they’re Deaf,” Lakb suggested. “Think about the personality, skills and experience.”