Image courtesy of Starbucks
This October, Starbucks will open its first U.S. signing store in Washington, D.C. It’s part of the company’s efforts to connect with more diverse communities. There aren’t many Deaf-friendly dining options in the U.S. , and Starbucks hopes this new store format will be a distinctive retail experience that promotes accessibility and offers employment and career advancement opportunities for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

Starbucks will hire 20-25 Deaf and hard of hearing people and hearing partners to work at the store, with a requirement that all be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL). This will help to attract and develop other talent with ASL capabilities while raising awareness and understanding of the Deaf experience in the workforce.

“The National Association of the Deaf applauds Starbucks for opening a Signing Store that employs deaf and hard of hearing people,” says Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. “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 U.S. opening was inspired by a similar store that opened in Malaysia in 2016. Starbucks partners in the U.S. traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2017 on the first anniversary of that store, in order to understand design modifications and gain knowledge to create the best possible store experience for Deaf and hard of hearing people.

Among the features of the new store in D.C. are ASL aprons embroidered by a Deaf supplier, and hearing partners who sign will have an “I Sign” pin. There will be an open environment for communication and low glare reflective surfaces. For customers new to sign language, the store will offer communication options for ordering and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter. The store will also feature exclusive artwork and a custom mug designed by a Deaf artist.

“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,” says Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president of U.S. Retail. “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.”