Starbucks To Launch Its First Sign Language-Friendly Store In The U.S.

"I look forward to this store bringing people together."

Starbucks is taking another step towards inclusion this fall by opening the coffee chain's first U.S.-based Signing Store in Washington, D.C.

According a press release on the chain's website, a team of deaf Starbucks employees and their colleagues spearheaded the initiative to connect with more of the communities that they serve. The store is modeled after the only other Starbucks Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that launched in 2016. 

"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 U.S. Retail said in a statement.  

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The store will hire nearly 20-25 individuals fluent in ASL. Deaf employees will wear an apron that has embroidered sign symbols placed in the front, and hearing workers will wear a pin that says "I sign."

A Starbucks location in Kuala Lumpur. Abdul Razak Latif / Shutterstock.com

Adam Novsam, a deaf utility analyst at Starbucks, told NPR that individuals with hearing impairment can experience a number of challenges while ordering a simple cup of coffee in more typical stores. 

"Before I go into any store, I'm anticipating and figuring out how I'm going to order and communicate. Typically, it is not an easy or smooth experience," Novsam said. "Sometimes I'll try to lipread, and that often results in misunderstanding my order, especially if they have a question. Sometimes I will gesture for paper and pen and the person will appear annoyed with me or seem exasperated that it is taking extra time."

There are several features that will be incorporated into this store to improve customers' experiences, per NPR. Baristas will no longer call out a customer's name when the order is ready, and instead their names will appear on a screen. In addition, the lighting and spatial layout will be dimmer and wider to accommodate deaf customers. 

"I think it will be an awesome experience for hearing people to have a unique experience — having the tables turned a bit — and having the opportunity to be exposed to a new language and culture. I look forward to this store bringing people together," Novsam told NPR.

Cover image via Inspired By Maps / Shutterstock.com

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