‘An opportunity to participate in our world:’ Starbucks to open first U.S. ‘Signing Store’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Starbucks announced on Thursday that they will open their first “Signing Store” in the United States in Northeast D.C.

According to a news release, a team of deaf Starbucks partners (employees) and allies led the effort to launch this unique store model at the existing store at 6th and H street.

Starbucks plans to hire 20-25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing partners from across the country to work at the Signing Store with a requirement that all be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL).

The location is just blocks from Gallaudet University, a private institution for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Oh I thought it was so exciting, just absolutely amazing,” says Nataly Fonseca, a fourth-year student at Gallaudet studying elementary education. “ASL is such a beautiful language, and whether you’re hearing or deaf, having that opportunity to participate in our world, it might be simple because you’re just making a coffee order but that entire visual set-up and place, having access to a signing environment, I think it’s great.”

Fonseca says she visits that Starbucks often and usually needs to use her phone or a notepad to order.

“It can be a little awkward and sometimes not all baristas feel comfortable taking my phone from me to get that order, so I sometimes have to offer them some kind of encouragement in order to do so,” she says.

Starbucks says the store will feature exclusive artwork and a custom mug designed by a Deaf artist, and a variety of enhancements to support the Deaf and hard of hearing partner and customer experience.

The deaf baristas will have ASL aprons embroidered by a Deaf supplier, and hearing partners who sign will have an “I Sign” pin.

The store will also incorporate aspects of Deaf Space, including an open environment for communication and low glare reflective surfaces. For customers new to sign language, the store will offer communication options for ordering and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter.

The store joins a hub of restaurants and stores that are already Deaf-friendly, including Shouk, an Israeli restaurant on Morse Street near the Union Market.

COO and Co-founder, Ran Nussbacher, says approximately 60 percent of their staff includes men and women who are hearing impaired.

“We wanted to connect with the community,” he says. “This shouldn’t really be a question, I think if there’s an opportunity to have a more diverse team being hearing impaired or not, it’s a good thing to do. We’ve enjoyed the various ways of how to describe the food, ‘spicy’ for example.”

The Starbucks Signing Store is expected to open in October.