Starbucks Opens Its First 'Signing Store' for US Deaf Community
It’s only the second signing Starbucks in the world.
Global coffee chain Starbucks has launched its first store in the US staffed entirely by employees proficient in American Sign Language (ASL).
The store, which opened on Tuesday in Washington, DC, has been completely designed with deaf and hard of hearing customers in mind in an effort to “drive greater connection," according to Starbucks.
And campaigners have hailed the move as a great step in promoting accessibility and offering employment and career advancement opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people.
Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said he “applauds” Starbucks for its latest effort, which will see Starbucks hiring 20-25 deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing partners to staff the store.
“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,” he said.
The store, located at 6th & H Street near Gallaudet University, isn’t Starbucks’ first signing store globally however. The first opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016, and the team behind the US store has been heavily inspired by the success of the first.
Gallaudet is a significant location, as it's just down the street from the campus of Gallaudet University — which is the world's only university uniquely designed to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
"This neighborhood is one of the most diverse I've seen since moving to DC," said Crystal Harris, a new barista at the store. "I hope the Signing Store will be embraced and accepted by those that live in this community. The fact that it is so close to Gallaudet University makes it that much more special."
“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 vice president of US retail, when plans for the store were announced in July.
“This store is truly from partners, for partners, and we couldn’t have gotten here without the team of deaf partners and allies from our accessibility office and the Access Alliance partner network who came together to bring this vision to life,” she said.
As well as only hiring staff who can sign, the store also includes design features such as an open environment for communication and low-glare reflective surfaces, according to Starbucks’ statement.
For customers new to sign language, the store also offers communication options for ordering and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter.
At the hand-off counter, for example, a screen notifies customers when their order is ready, including their name and the number of items in their order, according to Starbucks. There's also a dual keyboard at the counter for back-and-forth exchange between partners and customers if needed.
The hope is that the store will also create learning opportunties for the hearing community, whether it's learning how to sign words like espresso from the "sign of the week" chalkboard, or gaining a greater understanding of the deaf experience, said Starbucks.
Shortly after the plans for the US store were announced, the UK hosted the first-ever global disability summit in London on July 24.
The UK’s secretary of state for international development, Penny Mordaunt, announced the summit in the House of Commons using British Sign Language (BSL).
It made Mordaunt, who is also minister for women and equalities, the first government minister to use sign language in the House of Commons — although Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister, became the first MP to use BSL in the Commons in 2017.
Editor's note: This post has been updated from July to reflect the official launch of the signing store in Washington, DC.