Courtesy of Starbucks

It's part of the coffee company's movement to better support deaf employees in the workplace. 

Elisabeth Sherman
August 25, 2017

You might notice your barista wearing a new apron the next time you head into Starbucks. The coffee chain recently provided 50 U.S. employees who identify as deaf with a version of the brand's signature green apron which features "Starbucks" spelled out in American Sign Language (ASL). According to a recent announcement, the new aprons “serve as both a visual cue for customers and a point of Deaf cultural pride.”

A deaf employee named Katie Giles recommended the use of special aprons after meeting with representatives from Starbucks’ headquarters to discuss some of the difficulties she faced as a barista. The project was based on a similar campaign that handed out American flag-embroidered aprons to employees who are military veterans.

The ASL graphic aprons were made by Angie Foster, a deaf woman who runs an embroidery shop in Frederick, MD. “We were intent on finding a Deaf supplier, the first for Starbucks,” said Marthalee Galeota, a senior diversity specialist at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. “Angie’s work is stellar and we hope this visibility will bring more business her way.”

The finger-spelling design was first used at one of Starbucks' Malaysian outposts. As Food & Wine previously reported back in July of 2016, a location in Kuala Lumpur became the first store majority-operated by deaf baristas. “We are proud to support people with disabilities through fulfilling work to create a culture of empowerment and to bring new perspectives to the workplace, which ultimately makes us a better company,” Sydney Quays, managing director of Starbucks Malaysia, said in a statement at the time. 

Giles, who remembers that she used to struggle to communicate with customers, says that her relationship with them has “totally changed” by wearing the new apron. She now gets to communicate in ASL with some of her customers who didn’t know she was deaf before, allowing her true self to shine.