How Starbucks Helps the Deaf Community

two starbucks coffee cups on a table

If you’ve ever visited a Starbucks coffee shop, you’ve likely heard a patron rattle off a drink order that was more specific than your grandma’s pecan pie recipe. For example, they might say, “I’ll take a Grande, four-pump, nonfat, no-whip, extra-hot mocha.” Without missing a beat, the barista scribbles the order on the cup and starts making the drink. Orders like this one are a mouthful for even the most seasoned Starbucks guru, but for deaf people, it can be difficult to even order a cup of black coffee. Adam Novsam, a deaf utility analyst at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, set out to address that difficulty by heading the launch of the company’s first deaf-friendly signing store.

OPERATION

The store’s grand opening took place in October in Washington, D.C. Its overall success relies primarily on its purposeful operation and design elements. In 2005, the ASL Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University created the DeafSpace Project using design elements, such as space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility, light, and acoustics, to address potential challenges for deaf people. Starbucks’ signing store incorporates these aspects of DeafSpace to make their store more accessible. For customers new to sign language, the store features some high-tech options for assisting with communication, ordering drinks, and receiving beverages at the handoff counter, including digital notepads and a console with two-way keyboards for back-and-forth conversations.

APRONS

All store partners at the signing store are proficient in ASL, whether they are hearing, hearing-impaired, or deaf. However, deaf partners wear special green aprons embroidered with the ASL spelling of Starbucks. What’s more, these aprons were created by a deaf supplier!

EDUCATION

For hearing customers who aren’t fluent in ASL — even those just ducking in to grab a cup of coffee to go — the signing store offers an opportunity to learn something new. For example, they can learn how to sign a word like “espresso” in ASL merely by reading the chalkboard above the register with the “sign of the week.”

Starbucks’ decision to make their product more accessible has benefited thousands of customers all along the East Coast. Hopefully, as time goes on, other corporations will choose to follow suit so we can make a more deaf-friendly society.

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