Starbucks to Open Its First Sign Language-Based Coffeeshop in the U.S.

On Thursday, Starbucks announced its plan to open a coffee shop designed specifically for deaf and hard of hearing patrons. The new location, set to open in October, will be on 6th & H Street near Gallaudet University, a university in Washington D.C.,for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Starbucks opened its first location for deaf people in Malaysia in 2016. The D.C. coffee shop will be the first location for hearing-impaired patrons in the U.S. The new location will hire up to 25 people who are either deaf, hard of hearing or proficient in sign language. The store will feature an “open environment for communication” and low-glare reflective surfaces.

“This is a historic moment in Starbucks ongoing journey to connect with the Deaf and hard of hearing community, hire and engage Deaf and hard of hearing partners, and continue to find ways to be more inclusive, accessible and welcoming to all,” Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president of U.S. Retail, said in a statement.

In addition to hiring people from the Deaf community, the store will have exclusive artwork from deaf artists as well as custom-designed mugs. Baristas will wear aprons embroidered by a Deaf supplier with the word Starbucks fingerspelled in American Sign Language. Hearing baristas who sign will be given “I Sign” pins.

According to Gallaudet University, approximately 2 to 4 of every 1,000 people in the U.S. are “functionally deaf.”  Approximately 4,412 D.C. residents between the ages of 18 and 64 are deaf.

The National Association of the Deaf applauded Starbucks’ decision. “Starbucks has taken an innovative approach to incorporating Deaf Culture that will increase employment opportunities as well as accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing people, while at the same time educating and enlightening society,” Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said.

Starbuck’s “signing store” joins a growing number of restaurants geared towards the Deaf community including Mozzeria, a Deaf-owned and operated pizzeria based in San Francisco.

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