Starbucks Opens Its First U.S. Sign Language Store — DETAILS

How do you say “pumpkin spice latte” in American Sign Language? Well, let Starbucks tell you.

Starbucks has opened its first “Signing Store” in Washington, D.C on October 23, 2018. The chain hired as many 25 people from across the country who know American Sign Language (ASL) to work at the store, which was converted over the last few months from an existing Starbucks location, according to USA Today.

“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,” senior manager for accessibility Marthalee Galeota said in a statement. “We think this store celebrates the culture of human connection on a deep level.”

In July 2018, the company announced it was converting Starbucks near Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. into a Signing Store. Gallaudet is the nation’s premier university for students who are deaf or hearing-impaired.

Actress Marlee Matlin was among the first customers this morning and tweeted about her visit in sign language.


It’s Not About Deaf VS. Hearing

The Washington location was modeled on the Seattle-based coffee chain’s first Signing Store, which opened in Malaysia in 2016, the company said. The plan to open a Signing Store in the U.S. crystallized after American Starbucks employees traveled to Kuala Lumpur to study the one there.

“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,” Starbucks said in a statement when it announced its plans.

Baristas at the store, at 6th and H Streets, wear “I Sign” buttons and aprons illustrated with the word “Starbucks” spelled out in sign. The aprons were embroidered by a deaf supplier, Starbucks’ statement read. The coffee shop also has custom branding and decor, from exclusive artwork to a mug designed by a deaf artist.

Special deaf-friendly features, like low-glare reflective surfaces, were also incorporated into the store design. These initiatives were created by the Deaf Leadership of the Starbucks Access Alliance, according to the company’s statement.

One thing that staff members want to emphasize is that the store is not about deaf versus hearing, which doesn’t quite capture the community accurately. They prefer “signer” or “nonsigner.”

The inclusive language brings in people who are deaf and hard of hearing, CODAs (hearing Children of Deaf Adults), people who are dead and blind, and also others.

But many of the store’s employees emphasize that language is just one part of what makes this shop friendly to signers.

“This is an opportunity to model what deaf-centric space looks like,” barista Joey Lewis said.

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