The new Starbucks Signing Store in Washington, D.C., is led by a diverse team of employees who are all fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).
The store, the first of its kind in the United States, is down the street from Gallaudet University, a bilingual (English and ASL) institution for Deaf and hard of hearing students. It was inspired by a similar store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that opened in 2016 with nine Deaf partners.
The infrastructure and experiences in the new Washington, D.C., Signing Store were designed to create a melding of worlds and the best possible experience for partners and customers alike, whether they are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing.
Here are eight things to know about the new Starbucks Signing Store.
1. A mural brings it all together
Just inside the doors of the new Signing Store is a mural created by Yiqiao Wang, a deaf artist and adjunct professor at Gallaudet University. The mural includes a host of letters, signs and symbols representing English, ASL, Deaf culture and coffee. “In the center of the piece, you can see two very strong hands, arms raised up, rising from the bottom of the artwork,” Wang said. “Deaf people can see that. It means community in ASL, and bringing various backgrounds, languages and people all together.”
2. Designed for communication
In 2005, the ASL Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University and architect Hansel Bauman created the DeafSpace Project, cataloguing design elements that address major aspects of the Deaf experience with the built environment, including space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color and acoustics. The new Signing Store incorporates aspects of DeafSpace, including an open environment for communication and low-glare surfaces.
3. A symbolic green apron
All store partners are proficient in ASL, whether they are hearing, hard of hearing or Deaf. However, Deaf partners at the Signing Store wear special green aprons – created by a Deaf supplier – embroidered with the ASL finger-spelling of Starbucks.
4. A sign of hearing allies
There are several hearing partners on the team at the new Signing Store, and all are fluent in ASL. Hearing partners wear traditional green aprons with “I Sign” pins, which are actually available to any Starbucks partner worldwide with sign language proficiency.
5. Technology lends a hand
For customers new to sign language, the Signing Store features some high-tech options for assisting with communication, ordering drinks and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter, including digital notepads and a console with two-way keyboards for back-and-forth typed conversations.
6. Sign of the week
For hearing customers who don’t know ASL – even those just ducking in to grab a cup of coffee to go – the Signing Store offers an opportunity to learn something. Maybe it’s how to sign a word like espresso in ASL, from the chalkboard above the register with the “sign of the week.” Or maybe it’s a little insight into the Deaf experience or Deaf culture, like seeing the way Deaf partners interact with each other, or being a hearing customer able to communicate with partners and order a beverage without speaking a word.
7. A handle on Deaf artistry
The Signing Store features a special mug designed by Deaf artist Jena Floyd, who grew up in Kentucky. “I’m still pinching myself that my work on the mug will be seen by the public — especially with the exposure from Starbucks,” Floyd said. “Also, I’m so excited to see the first Signing Store here in America — especially with the design inside the store that’s Deaf-friendly, staff that use ASL, and artwork by Deaf artists. This is something tangible we as Deaf people can show what we’re capable of as contributing citizens of our society.”
8. A different kind of store
On the sidewalk outside the new Signing Store, custom umbrellas give the first hint the Starbucks near the intersection of 6th and H streets in Washington, D.C., is a different kind of store. They feature the company name as well as ASL finger-spelling of the company name.