Starbucks will open its first US Signing Store in Washington, DC this October, building upon ongoing efforts to connect with the diverse communities it serves, the coffee company announced on its website. A team of deaf Starbucks’ partners (employees) and allies reportedly led the effort to launch this unique store model in the US, which will be located at 6th & H Street near Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The store, according to the company’s announcement, 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.
“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. “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.”
Creating Opportunities with the Deaf Community
According to the company, Starbucks will hire 20-25 deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing partners from across the country to work at the Signing Store with a requirement that all be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL). This team of partners with a shared language of ASL and diverse experiences with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, will reportedly help to attract and develop talent, as well as raise awareness and understanding of the deaf experience in the workforce, including career opportunities at Starbucks and beyond.
“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,” said Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president of US 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.”
Designing the First US Signing Store
The idea to open a Signing Store in the US was inspired by a similar Starbucks Signing Store which opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016 with nine deaf partners. Starbucks’ partners in the US voiced the opportunity to create a similar third-place experience for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in the US; they traveled to Malaysia last July to understand design modifications and gain knowledge to create the best possible store experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. An internal team made up of Starbucks’ Deaf Leadership, Accessibility office, and Access Alliance is playing a critical role to support this historic store opening.
The store will reportedly feature exclusive artwork and a custom mug designed by a deaf artist, and a variety of enhancements to support the deaf and hard-of-hearing partner and customer experience. Deaf baristas will have ASL aprons embroidered by a deaf supplier, and hearing partners who sign will have an “I Sign” pin. These initiatives were created and sponsored by the Deaf Leadership of the Starbucks Access Alliance. The store will also incorporate aspects of Deaf Space, including 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.
Starbucks is said to have had a long history of engaging and creating opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing people as part of its ongoing commitment to disability inclusion and accessibility. To learn more, visit: Starbucks Commitment to Access and Disabilty Inclusion.
“Starbucks is to be commended for their affirmative approach to employing people with disabilities, in this case, persons who are deaf and hard-of-hearing,” said former US Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa, who was instrumental in introducing the Americans with Disabilities Act. “I know Starbucks will find deaf and hard-of-hearing persons to be their most loyal, competent, and reliable employees. Customers will enjoy interacting with these partners and perhaps learning a few good signs with their coffee!”
The Signing Store will be located at 6th and H and is scheduled to open in early October. To learn more, visit news.starbucks.com.