Starbucks Invited to the White House to Discuss Disability Employment

Starbucks manager of Equal Opportunity Initiatives Marthalee Galeota addressed the company’s disability hiring practices and policies at a White House panel today (October 27).

The White House National Disability Employment Awareness Month event celebrated an executive order President Barack Obama signed in 2010 calling for hiring 100,000 additional individuals with disabilities by the federal government over five years.

“In response to the President’s executive action, the federal government has now hired 154,000 people with disabilities,” said Rob Diamond, special assistant to the President and director of Private Sector Engagement. “That’s a great success story. We’ve come a long way and have laid the groundwork for future success, but that’s not to be taken for granted."

Woman standing in front of Starbucks Mission Statement on wall
Marthalee Galeota, Starbucks manager of Equal Opportunity Initiatives

Starbucks has been recognized for the last two years as a “Best Place to Work,” receiving a 100 percent score on the Disability Equality Index survey sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network. Galeota referenced Starbucks success stories, including Starbucks Inclusion academies at its York, Pennsylvania, and Carson Valley, Nevada, roasting plants, but emphasized that the effort is ongoing.

“We know that we don’t get everything right,” said Galeota. “We might have gotten a 100 percent score, but we’re not perfect. Going forward, I would like in my lifetime to see where you hire somebody – a barista who has autism and it goes viral and it’s on the “Ellen” show – that that doesn’t get the attention anymore. That it just is commonplace. We have one world – one accessible world where disability is adaptability, it’s humanity, it’s innovation and it’s our global responsibility.

“I Design” at Starbucks

In her role at Starbucks, Galeota promotes creating accessible environments for people. She’s a firm believer that anyone can help create settings that are welcoming to people with disabilities, that accessibility features are universally beneficial and that designing for inclusion is good for business.

“Inclusive design is one way to promote a culture of warmth and belonging,” Galeota said. “It’s a way to operationalize the concept.” 

That’s also the message of a new series launched by the Starbucks Access Alliance during October National Disability Employment Month. The series, “I Design,” celebrates inclusive design at Starbucks and enlists Starbucks partners (employees) in the effort.

“This series is a call to action, but it’s not dictating accessibility or about ‘accommodating’ individuals with disabilities on an ad hoc basis,” said Jenny Leland of the Starbucks Access Alliance, a partner network that promotes inclusion of people with disabilities. “Inclusive design, by definition, benefits many, is proactive, builds trust and supports a mindset shift from a focus on individual limitations to limitations on environment due to flawed design. And it also drives business success.”

People sitting on a panel in front of presentation screen

“Inclusive design is something that will likely benefit each of us in one way or another,” said Galeota. “As we age, our eyes need more lighting and larger print. We may need a foot operation that has on crutches for a while. Whether born with a disability or acquired later in life, whether permanent or temporary, the environment and how it is designed has significant impact on our ability to successfully navigate, feel comfortable and feel welcomed.”

Galeota is in the habit of spotting the elegant intersection of accessibility and design, whether at home or work. She sees it in houses where wheelchair ramps wind pleasingly through landscaping and in a Starbucks Braille gift card whose stylishness appeals to everyone, including customers who are Braille readers.

“We’re not talking about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act – that’s a given,” Galeota said. “We’re talking about how Starbucks does things that are aesthetically pleasing, accessible and functional.  We are a company that is performance driven through the lens of humanity. When we design with inclusion in mind, our humanity shines through.  The more we integrate inclusive design, the more these things will become second nature to us.”

National Disability Employment Awareness Month activities within the company will be capped by the Access Ambassador and Spirit of Starbucks Awards November 2 at the Starbucks Support Center (headquarters) in Seattle. The ceremony will recognize partners who’ve contributed to accessibility efforts around the world.

The White House panel was hosted by U.S. Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert. It also featured Michael Murray, chief operating officer of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and Christopher J. Kuczynski, assistant legal counsel at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Starbucks Commitment to Access and Disability Inclusion

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Starbucks year in pictures: A look back at 2023