Two years ago Starbucks opened its very first Signing Store — a location in Malaysia that was designed specifically to employ and make ordering coffering easier for people with hearing impairment. Starbucks recently announced plans to open its first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C. this October.
An estimated 28 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, according to The National Center for Health Statistic. About 2 million of those people are classified as being deaf, meaning they can’t hear everyday sounds or words. It is thought that around 13 million people have some proficiency in sign language, but for people who rely on American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary means of communication, sometimes something as simple as ordering coffee can become a huge inconvenience.
Starbucks plans to hire 20 to 25 employees, or ‘partners’ as they’re called within the company — all of which are required to be fluent in ASL, but do not necessarily have to be deaf themselves. Many employees traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last year to visit the current Signing Store and better understand the model.
The D.C. store will have some design modifications on the standard Starbucks store as well, including an open floor plan and low glare reflective surfaces that allow for better communication.
Artwork displayed at the store will also all be designed by deaf artists, as will a custom mug sold in the home goods and products section of the store.
Deaf baristas will wear aprons embroidered with “ASL,” and ASL fluent partners will have aprons that read “I Sign.”
Drink orders will be signed when they’re ready for pick up.
The new Starbucks Signing Store will be located at 6th and H, near Gallaudet University, the world’s only university designed specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing population.