Houston Starbucks becomes a hub for the Deaf community
When coffee has finished brewing at the Houston Starbucks at I-10 and Yale, baristas are notified by a timer that doesn’t beep, but vibrates and flashes instead.
The store, one of the busiest locations in Houston, employs three partners (employees) who are Deaf. The visual timer is just one of several tools available to Starbucks stores in support of partners with disabilities. Store manager Paul Meyer recognized that implementing new tools could enhance the work experience for Deaf and hearing partners alike.
“The timer was one of the first adjustments I made when I joined the store four months ago,” he said. “Our Deaf partners were particularly excited about it because it was specifically for them, but in reality, it helps all of our partners.”
Meyer also encouraged Deaf partners to use digital dry erase boards to take beverage and food orders from customers.
“The digital boards provide a tool that is consistently and easily accessible. They not only help with drink orders but also open the lines of communication between partners and customers,” said Meyer. “It’s the one change that partners like the most.”
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While Meyer can communicate a few words of American Sign Language, he quickly realized that he needed additional support to help Deaf partners develop their skills. Together with his leadership team, he hired Brad Leconey, a shift supervisor who is a certified sign language interpreter.
“I worked with Brad at one of my previous stores. He has really helped me bridge the gap in my ability to communicate with our Deaf partners,” said Meyer. “He has engaged them in store processes by providing training completely in sign language.”
“This is what I was meant to do,” said Leconey. “I have an opportunity to bring partners in the store closer together and help them build special relationships with one another and our customers.”
Meyer’s store has become known around the community as a friendly place for people who are Deaf.
“We have created a better atmosphere for everyone, but there’s still more we can do,” said Meyer. “Personally, I hope to learn more about Deaf culture and build my knowledge of American Sign Language. It’s so exciting to find new ways to support my partners, so in return, they can provide an even greater experience for our customers.”
Meet Partners from the I-10 and Yale Store
Lindsey Smith, shift supervisor
“I was nervous when I first started working at Starbucks, but the partners really helped break down barriers by being open to different communications methods like signing, simple gestures and writing. I’ve grown from a nervous barista to a great supervisor with all their support and faith. It was very exciting for me to have a couple of Deaf partners working with me because I could help them learn and grow their skills the best way possible.”
Lydia Tesfaye, barista
“Great coffee and desserts are what attracted me to work at Starbucks and because the company provides Deaf people the opportunity to become a Starbucks partner. I want to help customers understand all that a Deaf person can do.”
Greg Oxley, barista
“Starbucks is a great place to work because I get to meet a large variety of people and see many of our customers every day. I like to meet new people and make connections with them. I am excited to be hosting ASL social events in my store and help people in the community meet awesome people both hearing and Deaf.”