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Photograph: Dialogue Cafe
Photograph: Dialogue Cafe

At this Waterloo café you order in sign language

You can even video-call an interpreter to teach you how to do it

Edited by
Kate Lloyd
Written by
Aisha Rimi

Tucked away on Waterloo’s busy York Road sits Dialogue Cafe, a small but inviting space where customers are encouraged to place their order using only British Sign Language (BSL). The not-for-profit social enterprise, which opened in April, looks to ‘improve the employability options for people with disabilities’ and to connect the hearing and hearing-impaired communities. 

‘Our vision is one where we can create a more cohesive and inclusive society and raise awareness to the general public towards disability,’ says Asad Islam, one of the cafés managers. 

Staffed entirely by D/deaf and hearing-impaired baristas, the café has drawn a lot of visitors, some who pop in out of curiosity and others who have made a special trip to Waterloo.

‘Recently we had a lady who came all the way from Kent specifically to visit the café,’ says Islam. ‘She spent a good hour here practising her signing with the baristas. It turned out she was a sign language instructor, so this was a very good opportunity for her.’ 

Although the UK has a population of 11 million D/deaf or hard of hearing people, Dialogue Cafe is one of the first of its kind. BSL is not widely taught in schools, but Islam is eager to point out that customers ‘get on board with signing very quickly’. 

An interactive screen by the till shows one of the staff signing all the different orders to help customers. Thanks to its partnership with the charity InSignLanguage, the café also provides a tablet that visitors can use to call an interpreter who will sign to the baristas. 

But the café isn’t a gimmick, stresses Islam. ‘The reality is that our coffee is very good,’ he says of the Allpress Espresso brews the baristas make using La Marzocco coffee machines. ‘A lot of people are coming down for the coffee alone and because it’s decently priced.’

Dialogue Cafe, 43 York Rd, SE1 7NJ.

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