In June, Starbucks announced that it would be launching its first sign language-friendly store in The United States, modeled after the only other Starbucks Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There are approximately 37.5 million American adults, 18 and over, who report some trouble hearing, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports.
This week, the store officially opened in Washington, D.C., with all of its employees being fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), CNN reports. “Starbucks chose a block of H Street Northeast for its inaugural ASL store because of its proximity to Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing.”
“This neighborhood is one of the most diverse I’ve seen since moving to D.C.,” Crystal Harris, a new barista at the store, tells Starbucks through an interpreter. “I hope the Signing Store will be embraced and accepted by those that live in this community. The fact that it is so close to Gallaudet University makes it that much more special.”
The store doesn’t have music playing, but it does have a mural by a deaf artist, illustrations in sign language, and a chalkboard with the ASL vocabulary word of the week. There are also tablets for those who want to write down their orders, among other adjustments, like matte surfaces and bright lights.
“One thing that staff members here emphasize is that the store isn’t about deaf versus hearing, which doesn’t quite capture the community accurately. They prefer ‘signer’ or ‘nonsigner.'”
“I’m excited to be part of signing store and to share with my students someday and say I was part of the first Deaf Starbucks in America,” barista Joey Lewis tells Starbucks, through an interpreter. “I’m most excited about showing what a Deaf-centered business can look like.”
The store’s manager, Matthew Gilsbach, points out that those who are deaf should be given more job opportunities. Gilsbach received his master’s degree eight years ago, Starbucks reports, but had difficulty finding a job in his field.
“There is fear of it being a risk to hire Deaf individuals, and a lot of companies are not willing to take that risk,” said Gilsbach. “This store hopefully also shows what’s possible, opportunity-wise. As a Deaf person, you can have a job and you can have money and you can have life skills. And you can engage with people in the signing and non-signing community … I’m excited to start this journey and to see what the Deaf and hearing communities can do together.”
Cover image via TY Lim i Shutterstock