The coffee chain will hire up to 25 employees fluent in sign language to run the Washington D.C. store with a more visual ordering system.
This is a good sign for inclusivity at Starbucks.
The java giant will open its first sign language friendly coffee shop in the U.S. In October. The store, located in Washington D.C. and opening with help from the nearby Gallaudet University’s ASL Deaf Studies Department, is Starbucks’ latest effort to better serve the deaf and hard of hearing community. (It also has a deaf-friendly store in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, which opened in 2016 with nine deaf employees.)
Unlike the current ordering system where customers’ names are called out when their drinks are ready, the new store will have a visual display, alerting people to pick up their items instead of relying on a hollering barista. Starbucks plans to hire up to 25 employees at the store, including the deaf and hard of hearing, along with hearing workers fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), so that deaf individuals can communicate easily when ordering.
Hearing employees will wear pins on their aprons that say “I sign,” and deaf and hard of hearing employees will don aprons — which spell out “Starbucks” in sign language — that will be embroidered by a deaf supplier. The store will also feature artwork and custom mugs designed by a deaf artist, and visual aides like low glare reflective surfaces so that all customers can better see and communicate with the baristas.
Coming this fall in Washington, D.C.: our first U.S. Signing Store, creating jobs and driving greater connection with the Deaf and hard of hearing community: https://t.co/aOWJKErx35 pic.twitter.com/39N0HuIGVL
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) July 19, 2018
“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,” Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president of U.S. Retail, said in an online statement.
But some Starbucks baristas have already been helping the deaf on a more low-key level. In 2015, a video of a deaf female customer signing with a barista at an Augustine, Fla. drive-thru near a school for the deaf and blind went viral. The store uses a two-way camera system that let customers and employees see each other when ordering, and a number of the store’s employees were fluent in ASL. And the following year, an employee at a Virginia Starbucks learned ASL so that she could communicate with a regular customer who was deaf, the Washington Post reported.
The initiative will fill a much needed void in the customer service industry. Across all age groups, in the United States, approximately 1,000,000 people over the age of 5-years-old is functionally deaf.
A number of restaurants and businesses across the country have implemented customer service features that cater specifically to deaf patrons. Mozzeria, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria, became San Francisco’s first deaf-owned restaurant-turned franchise when it opened in 2011 with a staff of deaf employees and a sign-language-interpretation kiosk at the ordering counter. Others include Molly Moon’s ice cream shop in Seattle, which has an American Sign Language training program for its employees; and employees communicate with deaf customers in sign language at Crêpe Crazy in Austin, TX.
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