Starbucks Corp. is about to open a store that breaks new ground in the company’s efforts to be inclusive.
The coffee giant will open its first U.S. “signing store” in October, in Washington, D.C., near Gallaudet University. (The 150-year old institution is the world's only university designed for deaf and hard of hearing students.) It will be staffed by 20 to 25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing employees. All employees will be required to be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL).
The store is designed to promote accessibility and offers employment and career advancement opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people. It will incorporate design aspects of “deaf space,” including an open environment for communication and low glare reflective surfaces. For customers new to sign language, the store will offer communication options for ordering and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter. A visual display will walk customers through their orders, and another display will show customers that their orders are ready as opposed to baristas calling out a customer’s name or order.
In addition, the store will feature exclusive artwork and a custom mug designed by a deaf artist, and a variety of enhancements to support deaf and hard of hearing employees and customers. Deaf baristas will wear aprons embroidered by a deaf supplier that show "Starbucks" spelled in sign language. Hearing employees who sign will have an “I Sign” pin.
“This is a historic moment in Starbucks ongoing journey to connect with the deaf and hard of hearing community, hire and engage Deaf and hard of hearing partners, and continue to find ways to be more inclusive, accessible and welcoming to all,” said Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive VP of U.S. retail.
The National Association of the Deaf applauded the news. "Starbucks has taken an innovative approach to incorporating deaf culture that will increase employment opportunities as well as accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people, while at the same time educating and enlightening society,” CEO Howard Rosenblum stated.
The idea to open a signing store in the U.S. was inspired by a similar Starbucks store which opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016 with nine deaf employees. Starbucks employees traveled to Malaysia last July for the first-year anniversary to understand design modifications and gain knowledge to create the best possible store experience for deaf and hard of hearing customers in the U.S.