Starbucks to Open First Sign Language Café in the U.S.
Starbucks has announced plans to open its first so-called signing café in Washington D.C. in early October. The store will employ 20 to 25 deaf and hard of hearing people, all of whom are fluent in sign language, but it will be open to anyone. Starbucks already employs deaf and hard of hearing people at many of their stores, but this is the first time that a café in the United States will be staffed entirely by this community.
The idea for the signing store came from a similar Starbucks concept, which opened in Malaysia in 2016. The Washington D.C. outpost will feature artwork and a mug designed by a deaf artist, and hearing employees who are proficient in sign language will wear badges that read, “I sign.” Additionally, all employees will wear a custom apron, which spells out ‘Starbucks’ in American Sign Language. A deaf woman named Angie Foster, who runs her own embroidery shop, designed the aprons.
With input from the Starbucks Deaf Leadership Team, the café has been specifically designed to accommodate deaf and other hard of hearing people: All the surfaces are low glare and the layout is open, to aid in the ease of communication. Customers who aren’t familiar with sign language will have visual communications options when ordering and receiving their drinks. However, Starbucks didn’t go into any more detail about what those options will include in its initial statement.
Starbucks hopes that the new store will reflect the company’s commitment to becoming more inclusive and accessible. It also gives the community at large a chance to connect with a demographic that is typically underrepresented in the workplace. At the moment, Starbucks is in the midst of rethinking company and employee training standards, which independent analysts say need a complete “racial equality overhaul,” and will continue to hold anti-racial bias training for its employees.