Starbucks Opened Its First ASL Location in Washington D.C. and It’s a Big Deal

Starbucks added a new store on the map in Washington D.C. on October 23. It’s new store looks like any other Starbucks shop, but there are many unique features that makes it stand out as a place of interest for coffee lovers. People who have walked by this shop will notice the umbrellas have both Starbucks in English and finger-spelled in American Sign Language (ASL). This Starbucks is the first “Signing Store” in the United States, where all of the staff are fluent in ASL. ASL is not limited to only deaf or hard of hearing people as there are children of deaf adults (CODAs), deaf-blind people, hearing people, along with many others who benefit from using ASL. This store was created with inspiration from a similar store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that opened in 2016. This store is a large step forward for inclusivity for the Deaf community over a simple cup of coffee. Starbucks has chosen to put this store on H Street Northeast in close proximity to Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students. The store has put an emphasis on not showing the difference between deaf and hearing, but “signer” vs “non-signer.”

This is an important milestone for the deaf community as this Starbucks creates a Deaf space, which is an environment where it meets the needs for communication along with a safe and secure surrounding to express themselves. A Deaf space addresses major aspects of communication such as sensory reach, space and proximity, mobility and proximity, light and color, and acoustics. There are many features of this Starbucks that make this possible. The surfaces are matte, which helps prevent glare bothering people’s eyes. The chairs and tables are low so signers are able to see each other on the same level. Light is an important factor in being able to see the signer, so the lights are brighter than usual. Also when you walk in the store, you may notice that there is no ambient music. The architecture has been made to accommodate the customers and the staff has found ways to help give an enjoyable experience. All of the staff are allies to each other whether they are deaf or hearing. The Deaf partners wear special aprons that have ASL finger-spelling of Starbucks embroidered on it.

The hearing partners have the traditional green aprons with “I Sign” pins, which are available worldwide for anyone with sign language proficiency.    

Communication is important when you are trying to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Technology has helped this Starbucks look beyond the assumed difficulties in communication. Don’t worry if you don’t know ASL because there is technology utilized to help make ordering smooth. They provide digital keyboards to write down your orders at the counter or two-way keyboard to allow back-and-forth communication. There are screens set up to let the customers know when to pick up their orders, making it easier for them to get it without a hassle. If you want to learn a little ASL, there is always a sign of the week where you can learn a simple word like coffee.

Starbucks has taken a step further as they have featured works made by Deaf artists. They have put up a mural by deaf artist and adjunct professor at Gallaudet, Yiqiao Wang.

They have also included special mugs that display the ASL sign for Starbucks. This piece of art was created by Deaf artist, Jena Floyd.

    This move by Starbucks has brought waves of support and positivity from many people. Academy Award winning actress Marlee Matlin has shown her support by visiting this coffee shop when it opened. This shop has also brought employment opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people. Initiatives like this creates more opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people to surround themselves with a signing environment. This has also excited many young students at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, the adjacent high school to Gallaudet. Many of these students will be able to see themselves in the employees who work at this Starbucks. This store is providing an inclusive environment where deaf and hearing people can come together. Not only does it showcase an ASL business, but it also gives exposure on ASL and Deaf culture to many people in a relaxed manner. The next time you go to Washington D.C. and you’re craving some coffee, go to this awesome Starbucks.

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