A new Starbucks branch has been opened in Washington, D.C., but this is a particularly special branch of the popular coffee brand. The approximately 25 staffers who have been hired are all either fully or partially hearing impaired, and all of them are able to communicate fluently in American sign language.
According to USA Today, the branch, which is located close to Gallaudet University in Washington, opened on Tuesday morning, and Starbucks is calling it their “signing store.” The store was relocated from an old branch and converted to a more inclusive store.
Marthalee Galeota, senior manager for accessibility at Starbucks, made a statement about the impact this new branch could have on the community and Starbucks’ hope to cater to a wider customer base.
“All the barriers are gone from being able to communicate, or from people being able to demonstrate their skills and show off the talent they have. We think this store celebrates the culture of human connection on a deep level.”
While this is the first branch of the popular Seattle coffee brand in the U.S. to offer sign language communication to customers, it is not the first of its kind globally. Starbucks’ first signing store opened in Malaysia in 2016.
The new U.S. branch has been modeled on that store in Malaysia, and Starbucks actually sent a team to the store in Kuala Lumpur last year in July to study their operations in order to ensure success in the states. Starbucks later announced their plans to open a signing store stateside in July this year.
“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.”
Employees at the store also wear particular clothing to identify them as either deaf or able to communicate in sign language. While hearing-impaired baristas wear ASL embroidered aprons, those who are able to use ASL have an “I Sign” pin tacked onto their aprons to help customers.
For those unable to use ASL, the store also has “digital notepads and an ordering console with two-way keyboards” so that customers and staff are able to type to one another should the need arise. Other features include artwork created by a hearing-impaired artist and low-glare reflective surfaces.
Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, praised Starbucks for their initiative when the new branch opening was announced.
“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,” he said.
The new store has been opened just six months after the brand was slammed for racial profiling and a lack of inclusivity of minorities.