Starbucks Is Opening its First Sign Language Cafe in the US
In a step towards disability inclusion, coffee giants Starbucks announced today that the company will be opening the first sign language store in Washington DC later this year. The announcement comes less than two months after a racial sensitivity training for staff after two Black men were arrested while they waited in a Philadelphia Starbucks for a friend.
“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 US Retail said in a company statement.
She went on: “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. I look forward to the team welcoming the community to this store in October.”
The new location plans to hire 20 to 25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing partners (non-hearing impaired people who are fluent in American Sign Language) from across the US to head up the flagship location. The company hopes that their hiring of deaf and hard of hearing staff members will help grow job opportunities for those in the hard of hearing community, both inside and out of the chain.
“The National Association of the Deaf applauds Starbucks for opening a Signing Store that employs Deaf and hard of hearing people,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf in the Starbucks release. “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.”
This isn’t the first location that the PSL brand has focused on employing and celebrating diverse clientele. The idea was first hatched at a Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016 where nine deaf or hard of hearing staff were hired at the chain’s outpost.
The DC store will be designed by deaf artists, and feature mugs and artwork created by the same community. The goal is to also update the way staff and clients interact. Deaf baristas will have ASL aprons embroidered by a deaf supplier, and staff who can hear but who also sign will have an “I Sign” pin.
The store will also incorporate aspects of Deaf Space, a design style that helps hard of hearing people better interact with the room around them. The Starbucks sign language cafe will include an open environment for communication and low glare reflective surfaces for those using ASL to better see others in the space.
For customers who don’t speak ASL or are not hard of hearing, the company will be offering what they call “communication options” for ordering and collecting your drinks at the hand-off counter.
(Photo via Scott Olson/Getty Images)