Iced Lattes & Inclusivity: How UF Could Draw Inspiration from the New Starbucks ‘Signing Store'

The multi-billion dollar global coffee company Starbucks is yet again in the news, and for a good reason. Recently, the company opened their first “Signing Store” in the United States. The special store, located in Washington, D.C., employs those with an ability to communicate using American Sign Language. Now, hearing-impaired customers can order their caramel macchiatos with more ease than ever.

After learning about the innovations in customer inclusivity presented by Starbucks’ new store, I began to think how similar initiatives could be expanded to college campuses like the University of Florida. As I walked around the large campus, I began to imagine the many obstacles that hearing-impaired students face daily. That realization led me to consider how college campuses could improve their accessibility for students with different hearing or language needs. To gather insight, I reached out to Dr. Susan Nittrouer, the Chair of the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at UF. Here are her thoughts on Starbucks’ new store and how UF can learn from the coffee company on how to celebrate diversity on campus and in the classroom.

Her Campus UFL: As I’m sure you have heard, Starbucks opened a new ‘signing’ store that is employed by people proficient in American Sign Language. What are your thoughts on this new store?

Susan Nittrouer (SN):

The opening of the signing Starbucks store is one instance in which diversity is being embraced in a way that benefits us all. Everyone is a unique combination of traits, and society only suffers when we exclude individuals due to some subset of those traits that we have come to deem as different from the mainstream.

HC UFL: How do you believe the University of Florida does at promoting the inclusion of these unique traits that you mentioned? In what ways could UF further promote the inclusion of those with special needs, such as hearing-impaired students?

SN: The University of Florida does a fair job of including students who are diverse, but it remains an afterthought – something that must be added on to our mainstream academic routines. I would love to see us develop an entire college for students who learn differently, for whatever reason. 

HC UFL: Why is it important for college campuses like UF to actively highlight diversity and inclusion in the classroom? Have any college campuses developed initiatives such as the one you are suggesting?

SN: So many individuals have so much to contribute to the world, but those contributions are restricted because of something that is considered a special learning need. As an example of a college that does what I am suggesting, check out Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida.

If this insight on the opening of the Starbucks Signing Store and UF shares any message, it is that everyone deserves the chance to enjoy something they love, whether special needs or not. It is the “unique combination of traits” that Dr. Nittrouer discusses that culminates the intelligent and diverse identity of the UF student body. Whether through a coffee shop or in a classroom, college campuses have a moral obligation to promote equal opportunity for all students. Just as Starbucks’ new store allows customers of all needs to order their favorite frappucino, universities should allow all students, special needs included, the opportunity to thrive in a collegiate environment.