Starbucks Becomes Inclusive of the Deaf Community

by Madisen Fritz | 24 September 2021

Ordering a simple cup of coffee or specialty java drink is, for most Americans, is a normal part of their mundane morning routine, but for D/deaf customers ordering a cup of coffee can be a big hassle if the barista doesn’t know sign language. Miscommunications happen frequently, which can lead to embarrassment and social awkwardness for both the customer and the barista. Starbucks has found a creative and helpful way to make sure that the dignity of all their customers remains intact. This paper will explore the ways Starbucks’ opening of a “signing store” has benefitted their D/deaf customers and their entire community.

In October of 2018, Starbucks opened the first U.S. “signing store” in Washington D.C. Starbucks took time to make sure this store was designed to make it easy to communicate with Deaf and hard of hearing customers. This Starbucks is located just blocks away from Gallaudet University, which is a four-year college for the Deaf and hard of hearing. This store brings a unique opportunity for students attending Gallaudet to work and socialize at this coffee shop.

This innovative coffee shop provides a place of community for the students where they can study and build friendships. The coffee shop also provides a great opportunity for hearing individuals to get a glimpse into Deaf culture and community. NPR interviewed one of the baristas, Novsam, and she describes how difficult it is in typical restaurants and coffee shops saying, “We D/deaf people are often handed Braille menus in restaurants. It doesn’t make any sense and you may laugh, but it is a consistent experience for many of us,” Novsam also explained the benefits of this coffee shop saying, “I think it will be an awesome experience for hearing people to have a unique experience — having the tables turned a bit — and having the opportunity to be exposed to a new language and culture. I look forward to this store bringing people together.”[1] This coffee shop will bring understanding between D/deaf and hearing customers, helping them to communicate and appreciate one another.

The store has been built and designed in unique ways to best serve and care for Deaf customers. This would include “digital displays and notepads, and an ordering console with two-way keyboards so customers and employees can type back and forth. Among the other special deaf-friendly features are low-glare reflective surfaces.” [2] These features add to the convenience that customers experience when they walk through the doors. The Washington Post highlights how there are screens located in the shop to show when drinks are ready rather than merely waiting to have your name called. [3] All these various features work together to provide a place of warmth, caring, and convenience.

As someone who works in a coffee shop, I see the benefits that come from people enjoying a cup of coffee together. Coffee brings people together and coffee shops provide a place for people to build friendships and foster fellowship within communities. How awful is it that deaf people are often excluded from these benefits? Starbucks has done something truly powerful for the D/deaf and hearing community in opening this shop. This store will bring people together and help to overcome some of the misunderstandings surrounding Deaf culture. I hope that many restaurants and stores will see what Starbucks has done and will follow their example.

Work Cited:

[1] Kristen Hartke, NPR, Starbucks to Open First ‘Signing Store’ in the U.S. to Serve Deaf Customers, accessed September 16, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/07/20/630844472/starbucks-to-open-first-signing-store-in-the-u-s-to-serve-deaf-customers

[2] Zlati Meyer, USA Today, Starbucks’ First U.S. ‘Signing Store’ lets Deaf Customers Order Using Sign Language, accessed September 14, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/restaurants/2018/10/23/starbucks-sign-language-store-now-open-washington-d-c/1737022002/

[3] Rachel Siegel, The Washington Post, Starbucks Opens First U.S. Sign Language Store – with Murals, Tech Pads and Fingerspelling, accessed September 17, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/10/23/starbucks-opens-first-us-sign-language-store-with-murals-tech-pads-fingerspelling/

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