Starbucks logo Service with a Sign: Starbucks releases pioneering British Sign Language Training

Starbucks UK is improving communication for the Deaf Community with game-based British Sign Language training to all 18,000 UK employees.

Revolutionary BSL training

Starbucks is breaking down communication barriers for the Deaf Community by rolling out BSL and Deaf Awareness Training to all 18,000 UK employees

Human connection is at the very core of the Starbucks mission: ‘With every cup, with every conversation, with every community – we nurture the limitless possibilities of human connection.’

When Starbucks UK set out to improve the Starbucks experience for deaf employees and customers, they wanted a solution that delivered on this core principle. It needed to be inclusive, accessible and engaging to encourage everyone to learn the foundations of British Sign Language (BSL) and to improve Deaf Awareness – removing some of the communication barriers and opening up brand new possibilities for human connection.

Starbucks chose to work with Attensi to design and create a bespoke game-based training solution that could achieve these goals.

The innovative and interactive training games that were created introduce partners (Starbucks employees) to BSL and Deaf Awareness training.

“Starbucks has over 18,000 partners – we have a responsibility to educate and include people. Our reach is large and can make a difference.” Toro Manca

District Manager | Starbucks UK

Spearheaded by Starbucks and endorsed by the British Deaf Association, this training is designed to ensure that the Starbucks experience is the same for the Deaf Community and hearing customers. It’s also hoped that Starbucks’ non-deaf partners will have a greater awareness and knowledge of their deaf colleagues’ experiences.


A landmark partnership with the British Deaf Association

For Starbucks, the insights from the BDA were crucial to the success of this project.

Founded in 1890, The British Deaf Association (BDA) campaigns for equal rights for the Deaf Community. One of their most notable achievements was the formal recognition of BSL as an official language by UK parliament.

The mission of the BDA has always been, ‘We envisage a world where deaf people and hearing people will be the same.’

Starbucks, Attensi and the BDA worked together to combine the best subject expertise and training excellence to build an impactful training solution.

Rebecca Mansell, CEO of the British Deaf Association described the training solution as revolutionary and ground breaking as she emphasized how exciting it is to see a scheme like this from such a major employer as Starbucks. She has high hopes that this will pave the way for many other organizations – closing the barriers between deaf and non-deaf people.

“The final product, wow. It’s so easy to use. It’s really simple to access and navigate. And also very visual. Fantastic in the way it’s designed.”

When asked how important relevance would be to this training, Rebecca replied,


A glimpse into life as a deaf person in a hearing world

Manu explains the challenges he’s faced previously working face-to-face with customers in his role at Starbucks.

“There have been a lot of challenges, especially with hearing customers – they might get impatient if I’m using my phone to communicate. There can be a communication breakdown.”

Real examples like this helped to guide the training design to make a positive impact. Rebecca Mansell (Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association), Manu Sulaiman (Starbucks Barista) and Yuan Yung Zhang (Starbucks Barista) tell us a bit more about how it makes them feel when their colleagues have a greater awareness of the Deaf Community and can communicate with them directly. 

What inspired the project?

The Starbucks mission statement runs through the fabric of the organization, putting human connection at the heart of every Starbucks experience.

Starbucks District Manager, Toro Manca, who is hearing, was independently learning BSL, which enabled him to better support and connect with his deaf colleagues. Toro highlighted to the leadership team how improved Deaf Awareness could make a big difference to the Deaf Community in Starbucks. True to their mission, Starbucks UK felt they had a responsibility to act.

The training mission evolved to not only cover the foundations of BSL –  it’s also an education about Deaf Culture and the Deaf Community. It is designed to enable both hearing and deaf partners to have everything they need to feel confident in providing a welcoming environment for all.

Why choose Attensi game-based training?

After building a strong partnership with Attensi over many years, Starbucks UK decided that the game-based learning tool would be an ideal way to introduce Deaf Awareness and BSL to their 18,000-strong workforce of partners.

One of the key benefits was how accessible the training is on both mobile and desktop. This digital-first approach has proven to be a popular way to train for the partners in Starbucks – they can really take control over their learning and fit it around their own schedules.

Toro tells us how he’s been lucky to be able to go to a school to learn BSL, but this isn’t the case for a lot of their partners. Either they don’t have a facility locally or it’s not financially viable to invest in a course. He really wanted this training to be something everyone could experience in the same, accessible way.


An immersive experience

Another draw for Starbucks to the Attensi way of training was the experiential element. BSL is expressive, so it was important that they could use the training to replicate realistic interactions and scenarios in-store. By incorporating real videos of deaf Starbucks partners teaching BSL, the training solution helps to bridge the gap between theory and reality, making for an immersive and realistic training experience.

Real world impact

The team was delighted that the BSL training saw fantastic engagement.

  • Within just two months, 73% of partners had started the training, and 53% had already completed it.
  • 97% of partners that completed the training ‘agreed they had a better understanding of the Deaf Community and of introductory BSL.’

Matt and Sara explain that for non-mandatory training, these participation numbers and completion rates are incredibly high.

It was extremely rewarding to see the overwhelming response from partners requesting more BSL training – demonstrating the meaningful impact this has had on increasing BSL and Deaf Awareness.

More important than the numbers though, is the impact on raising awareness and removing barriers between the hearing and the Deaf Communities. A Starbucks barista that completed the training said, “I enjoyed knowing about the Deaf Community and BSL as a language. Learning about how to build connections with deaf people is a great experience and a true blessing. Thank you so much for providing the best learning platform.”


Pride in building human connections: Feedback from Starbucks partners on the BSL Training

  • “It’s given us the opportunity to learn sign language and be more aware of the Deaf Community as a whole. Very excited to meet my first deaf customer and make them feel welcome.”
  • “We have some deaf customers in-store, and I struggle taking their orders. Now I feel more confident in handling these situations, and most importantly feeling respectful and making them feel equal.”
  • “This is something new that I have never known or learnt before. We all deserve to be loved and respected. We are all same. Thank you for having such a wonderful program. I am proud of being part of Starbucks.”

As more people complete the training, it’s hoped that this momentum will continue – laying the foundations for long-term impact.

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