Starbucks will open its first U.S. signing store near Gallaudet University this fall to provide accessibility to deaf and hard of hearing customers. In a press release, the coffee company announced that in October its location at 6th and H Street in Washington, D.C., will be staffed by a mix of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing employees who are all proficient in American Sign Language (ASL).
Deaf staffers will wear sign language aprons, embroidered by a deaf supplier, while hearing staffers will wear “I sign” pins. Orders will be taken using a visual display. Additionally, the store will feature an open environment for ASL communication, plus low-glare reflective surfaces, and will showcase exclusive artwork and feature a custom mug designed by a deaf artist.
The store is located in a neighborhood where many bars and restaurants have hired staffers proficient in ASL to serve the needs of the students and staff of Gallaudet, the world’s only university designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.
The idea for this deaf-friendly coffee shop was inspired by a Starbucks signing store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the chain’s first, which hired deaf staffers and trained hearing staffers in American Sign Language.
Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, praised the decision, saying, “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. “
One Gallaudet University student called the move “an opportunity to participate in our world.”
A current Starbucks employee in Tempe, Arizona, praised the decision.
Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin thanked the company on Twitter.
While this store is the first for the Seattle-based chain in the U.S., baristas in other locations have used their sign language fluency to take customer orders, including at a Florida drive-thru. At that Starbucks, through the use of video technology, a deaf woman was able to use sign language to convey her order and recorded the exchange in a video that went viral. In a London Starbucks, baristas have set up a We Sign Café which offers monthly lessons in British Sign Language, while the store has worked to recruit deaf staffers. This new signing store is just another reason Starbucks is one of our favorite coffee chains in America.