Starbucks opens its first U.S. sign language store

ASL is present everywhere, including on aprons

Published On
Oct 23, 2018

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Starbucks opened its first U.S. shop on Tuesday that incorporates American Sign Language everywhere, from taking orders to baristas' aprons.

The Starbucks at 6th and H streets in Washington, D.C., is close to Gallaudet University, a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. While some employees at other Starbucks locations can take orders placed using American Sign Language, all employees at this location are proficient in ASL.

The store was inspired by Starbucks' first ever signing store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that opened in 2016 with nine deaf employees, the company says. Last year, some U.S. employees visited that store to better understand design modifications and other details before crafting final plans for the D.C. shop. Here are some of the details Starbucks points out about its newest location.

Everyone can sign
All employees at the Washington, D.C. store know ASL even if they are not deaf or hard of hearing. Deaf employees wear special green aprons featuring "Starbucks" spelled out with ASL finger-spelling imagery that were made by a deaf supplier. Other employees wear "I Sign" pins to designate that they know ASL. (Those pins are available to any Starbucks employee, not just those at this store, who are proficient in sign language.)

Learning to sign 
A chalkboard features a "sign" of the week, so people who are not familiar with ASL can learn things like how to sign words for "coffee" or "espresso." There are other ways to order including through digital notepads and by using two-way keyboards made for back-and-forth typed conversations.

Design details
The setup is meant to better meet the needs of deaf people, Starbucks says. For example, the new store has low-glare surfaces and open spaces, which help with visual communication.

Art in the store includes a mural by Yiqiao Wang, a deaf artist and adjunct professor at Gallaudet. It includes two hands, arms raised up, which means community in ASL, Wang told Starbucks. Even the umbrellas on the tables outside the feature the ASL finger-spelling of Starbucks. The store also sells a mug designed by Deaf artist Jena Floyd.