Starbucks opens first-in-US store for customers to order in sign language

By | October 23, 2018

Starbucks opened its first signing store Tuesday where customers can order using American Sign Language.

The new shop on 6th and H Street NE near Gallaudet University, a private university for the education of deaf and the hard of hearing, is staffed with 25 employees from across the country who are partially or fully deaf and are fluent in sign language.

“The store will create a distinctive retail experience for all customers, while offering a unique store format that promotes accessibility and offers employment and career advancement opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people,” Starbucks said in a statement announcing the store in July.

The Starbucks is modeled after the first signing store that opened in Malaysia in 2016. The plan for the U.S. store came after employees visited Kuala Lumpur to see their store.

Employees of the new D.C. shop wear ASL aprons that spell Starbucks and were embroidered by a deaf supplier. The store features digital displays, notepads, and an ordering console with a two-way keyboard that allows customers and employees to communicate. Employees wear “I Sign” pins as well.

The store showcases artwork such as custom coffee mugs and a mural depicting signs for coffee and deaf culture. The counters at the store are lower for increased visibility of hand movement, and reflective surfaces are low-glare to accommodate guests.

Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said when Starbucks made the announcement for 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.”

The announcement for the signing store in D.C. came three months after Starbucks was criticized for its lack of inclusivity when two African-American men were arrested for trespassing at a store in Philadelphia. The men declined to purchase anything while they waited to start a business meeting. Starbucks apologized and held racial bias training for employees six weeks later.

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