A Starbucks store designed specifically for deaf and hard of hearing customers will open this October in Washington, D.C. near the campus of Gallaudet University, a four-year university for the deaf community. The store, which will employ associates proficient in American Sign Language (ASL), aims to 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,” according to a Starbucks press release.
The retailer will hire 20 to 25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing partners from across the country to work at the Signing Store. Deaf baristas will have ASL aprons embroidered by a deaf supplier, and hearing partners who sign will wear an “I Sign” pin. The store will incorporate aspects of Deaf Space, a concept designed for deaf visitors that includes an open environment for communication and low glare reflective services. Customers new to sign language will be offered communication options for ordering and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter, and the store will feature exclusive artwork and a custom mug designed by a deaf artist.
The idea to open a U.S. Signing Store was inspired by a similar Starbucks store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that opened in 2016 with nine deaf employees. An internal team made up of Starbucks Deaf Leadership, Accessibility office and Access Alliance is playing a critical role to support the U.S. store opening.
"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 a statement. “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."