Starbucks Will Have First ‘Signing Store’ In The U.S. For Deaf Customers


  • In October, Starbucks will open its first deaf-friendly store in Washington, D.C. where staff will communicate with customers using American sign language.
  • The American coffee megachain will model it from the first and only Starbucks “signing” branch in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • Starbucks also plans to include low glare reflective surfaces to reduce concentration problems, fatigue and to help ease visual communication.

Ordering a hot cup of Starbucks coffee is normally a simple task to do. But for deaf people, it isn’t so. It can be a pretty frustrating experience that often results in a lot of misunderstanding and exasperation from both crew and customer.  Starbucks intends to change all of that.

The stores will also feature new designs that will create a comfortable environment for their deaf customers. It will be situated near
Gallaudet University, the world’s only university for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The new store will be modeled after the first and only Starbucks signing branch launched in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016. The Malaysian shop has included changes in its design, customized order forms, and queue management systems that helped provide deaf customers and employees a user-friendly environment. They also enrolled their employees in a 10-week course that included sign language and an orientation on deaf culture.  The U.S. store, on the other hand, will focus on employing staff who are already highly skilled in American sign language.  However, proficiency in ASL is not enough; spatial design is equally important.

According to the director of the Gallaudet Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute at Gallaudet University, Ryan Maliszewski says that deaf people need more space and room to converse with friends because they solely rely on their hands to communicate.  In addition, lighting designs including low glare reflective surfaces were included to reduce the problems of concentration fatigue and to help ease visual communication. This applies to not only deaf customers but the employees as well.

Adam Novsam, a Starbucks utility analyst who is deaf himself, regards the signing store as a chance to create an experience that distinctively focuses on deaf culture and community.

He says, “We 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. 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.”

Source: NPR

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