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Sainsbury's Turns a Store Into UK's First Sign Language Supermarket

Why Global Citizens Should Care
There are 11 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing, but only 151,000 who can communicate using British Sign Language (BSL). Across the world, the deaf community are more likely to be unemployed, have worse mental health, and therefore are more vulnerable to fall into the poverty cycle. Join our movement here and take action to support the world’s most vulnerable people.

Sign language has found itself with some serious limelight in the last 18 months.

In an Oscars acceptance speech; on the frontbench of UK parliament; and it definitely stole the show at Glastonbury, as one of Britain’s few expert grime interpreters went viral during a rambunctious signing of Stormzy’s headline set.

It’s on your television, it’s in the halls of power — and for three days last week, it might have been in your local supermarket too.

One Sainsbury’s branch in Bath — temporarily renamed “Signsbury’s” — had its staff communicate both verbally and with British Sign Language (BSL) to all customers in the store.

It’s part of a series of celebrations called 150 Days of Community, marking the supermarket chain’s 150th anniversary after its first shop opened in London all the way back in 1869, encouraging its 185,000 staff to volunteer for local causes they believe in. 

The immersion started right as customers arrived. Staff would greet you at the door using BSL, and were encouraged to communicate anything from directing customers to find certain foodstuffs to talking about the weather. 

Then as customers went about their shopping, screens dotted around the store show you how to sign words like “trolley” and “milk”, according to Somerset Live. Children could win free fruit by learning simple BSL words too — all to show as many people as possible how easy it is to get involved in promoting accessibility.

More than 100 staff from the store prepared for the 3-day project with lessons in BSL from local training centre I Can Sign. The idea was spearheaded by store manager Paul Robinson — and supported by a deaf member of his team called Sam Book, with a little sprinkling of celebrity help too.

Rachel Shenton was the actress who delivered that Oscars speech entirely in sign language. Her film The Silent Child — that she wrote and starred in — was about a girl born deaf, who felt isolated until a social worker taught her sign language. 

Shenton had promised the 6-year-old lead actress that if they won an Oscar, she would sign the whole speech — and the gong for Best Live Action Short came their way. 

Sainsbury’s then recruited Shenton, also an ambassador for the National Deaf Children’s Society, to teach some sign language alongside staff member Book in a series of online video guides.

“This is a fantastic initiative to be involved in,” Shenton said. “It’s been brilliant to see the colleagues of Sainsbury’s be so engaged in the idea and it’s a great step towards inclusivity for the deaf community.”

“We have many hard-of-hearing customers in Bath, and always want to make their experience as brilliant as possible,” added manager Paul Robertson.