Starbucks to Open First 'Signing' Store in US

Starbucks is finally opening its first signing store in the U.S. for deaf customers, the company said Thursday.

The coffee chain will turn the location at 6th & H Street near Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. into a Starbucks Signing Store by October. The store will provide unique employment opportunities for the deaf or hard of hearing, and will serve all customers, according to a company press release.

"The National Association of the Deaf applauds Starbucks for opening a Signing Store that employs Deaf and hard of hearing people," Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, said in a statement. "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."

Starbucks plans to hire 20 to 25 deaf, hard of hearing and hearing from across the country to work at the store. All employees will be fluent in American Sign Language.

Rossann Williams, Starbucks executive vice president of U.S. Retail, called this a "historic moment" for the company and its efforts to connect with the deaf and hard of hearing communities.

"This store is truly from partners, for partners, and we couldn't have gotten here without the team of Deaf partners and allies from our Accessibility office and the Access Alliance partner network who came together to bring this vision to life. I look forward to the team welcoming the community to this store in October," Williams said.

This will not be the first Starbucks Signing Store ever though. In 2016, the company opened a similar store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016 with only nine deaf employees. The company sent deaf employees from the U.S. to Malaysia last year to see how the store found success in the area.

The Signing Store will not simply be another Starbucks location. Customers can get a custom mug designed by a deaf artist, and deaf baristas will wear ASL aprons made by a deaf supplier. Hearing employees at the store will wear special aprons with "I sign" pins.

Former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa praised Starbucks for the initiative.

"I know Starbucks will find Deaf and hard of hearing persons to be their most loyal, competent and reliable employees. Customers will enjoy interacting with these partners and perhaps learning a few good signs with their coffee," Harkin said.

This is the latest move from Starbucks to be more inclusive after two African-American men were arrested while waiting for a business meeting at a Philadelphia Starbucks. The company's executives apologized for the incident and closed all stores for a day in May to provide employees with racial-bias training.

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Disability rights groups also criticized Starbucks' plan to get rid of all plastic straws by 2020.

Photo credit: Starbucks