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Starbucks to Open ‘Sign Language’ Branch in D.C. With Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing Employees

Starbucks released this image of an apron with an illustration of the company's name in sign language on July 19, 2018.

Starbucks released this image of an apron with an illustration of the company's name in sign language on July 19, 2018.

American coffee megachain Starbucks has announced it’s planning to open a branch where every employee is proficient in American Sign Language.

Want to go? Then you’ll need to travel to Washington, DC, which is home to Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts institution of higher learning for the deaf. It is due to open in October 2018.

Specifically, the branch will be at 6th and H streets, close to Gallaudet’s campus.

In a news release, the Seattle-based company announced that the creation of their “Signing Store” will include hiring at least 20 deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and that all hearing partners working there will also be required to become fluent in ASL.

“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.

While the Signing Store will be the first of its kind in the United States, Starbucks has worked with the deaf community in other markets. A Malaysian outpost staffed by deaf baristas opened in 2016 featuring wall art that had the word “Starbucks” spelled out in American Sign Language.

In addition to having deaf and ASL-fluent staff members, the Washington store will have art by deaf and hard-of-hearing artists and will hold events for the local deaf community, according to the brand.

The store will also be designed using elements of Deaf Space, a groundbreaking deaf-centric architecture program created by Gallaudet. Odds are good that you won’t see tall stools and chairs, as they often block visibility for signers. But you are likely to see surfaces with matte finishes for minimum glare, bright lighting and floors that reduce excessive vibration.

Although Starbucks’ store will be a major anchor in the neighborhood, many businesses around Gallaudet have encouraged employees to learn basic ASL to better serve their customers.

While the announcement of the Signing Store has been met with positive reception in the deaf community, not all persons with disabilities are applauding the move.

Recently, Starbucks’ decision to ban plastic drinking straws from their stores was met with backlash from disabled individuals who rely on the straws because of mobility and other issues.