What’s inside a more accessible and inclusive Starbucks store?

A female-presenting customer operating her power chair through a Starbucks store.

Starbucks new Washington, D.C., store is first built using new Inclusive Spaces Framework


For many customers who enter a Starbucks store, the first thing that probably comes to mind is what drink they’re going to order. But for those who often face barriers navigating a physical or digital space, other questions are also at the forefront:  

Can I easily get in the store? Is there enough room to maneuver and sit? How will I communicate with the barista?  

“So many people with disabilities don’t even access retailers because they can’t get in the door,” says Kim Knackstedt with Unlock Access, an accessibility and disability policy firm in Washington, D.C. “So having somewhere that is very easy to know that it’s a place that welcomes you, and you know this is a space where you belong, it’s a really big deal. You know it or you don’t, literally from the moment you enter.”  

To create a more accessible store experience across the U.S., Starbucks has launched an Inclusive Spaces Framework that will guide new store construction and renovations going forward. The first store built using the framework opens today, Feb. 16, in Washington, D.C.’s Union Market neighborhood. 

“Being thoughtful of others is important,” says Posa, a Deaf barista and one of eight Starbucks partners (employees) at the new store who know and use sign language. “This store is a good opportunity for everyone to feel like they can have access, regardless of where they come from. We’re going to get more diverse customers coming in, because it is accessible, and they’re going to have their needs met.” 

Margaret, Starbucks district manager who oversees the store, says, “When I think about our core values, courage is one that I know we’ll lean into here. Another value – belonging – is what our customers will experience. We are going to make them feel like no matter who you are, we’re looking for ways to meet you right there.”  

Learn about how Starbucks is improving the partner experience and creating a more accessible and inclusive retail setting for all customers, and some of the key features designed to make a difference. 

Table of Contents

Next-generation point-of-sale (POS)  

The new POS system being tested at this store is designed to aid partner and customer interactions, with voice recognition that captures what the customer is saying, screen magnification, images of menu items to support language diversity and visual confirmation of orders. 

Power-operated doors  

At the front entrance, from both the inside and outside, any customer can push the power door buttons to enter stores independently and with ease. The longer vertical buttons are easier to activate from different heights and angles.

More accessible handoff counter  

An updated handoff plane features an overhanging shelf and almost three feet of clearance underneath, providing lots of extra room for customers to approach with wheelchairs, power chairs, strollers and service dogs.  

Optimized acoustics and lighting 

Adjustable lighting – including multiple dimmers and power screens on the exterior windows – helps reduce daytime glare and shadows that might interfere with visual communication. Acoustic dampening baffles in the ceiling help reduce noise and reverberations, including for people who use assisted listening devices, such as hearing aids.

Aira for low-vision, blind customers  

With the Aira app, customers who are blind or have low-vision are connected via their smartphone camera to on-demand visual interpreters who help guide them through the store.

Inclusive equipment design  

Starbucks new bean-to-cup brewer, the Clover Vertica™, combines advanced engineering with accessibility features like a larger dial, visual and haptic confirmation and a light to notify partners when brewing is complete.

Customer order status boards  

A large status board at the end of the bar provides a visual cue to customers; names are alphabetized into three columns: received, in progress and ready. The technology is the next iteration of learnings, born out of the first few Starbucks signing stores, including one in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks away. The original board was just a computer monitor.

Mural designed by Deaf artist  

The approximately eight-foot-tall wrap-around mural was designed by Ryan Seslow, a Deaf New York City-based artist and college professor who has hereditary hearing loss. His piece is designed to help spark community conversation around disability, accessibility and inclusion. A replica is etched into the store’s community table, offering another more tactile way to engage with the design.

Community commitment to inclusion  

At this Starbucks, half the store’s partners know and use American Sign Language. Some are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. It’s a commitment aligned with the ethos of the neighborhood; the store is located just blocks away from Gallaudet, the nation’s premier Deaf and hard-of-hearing university. In fact, Matthew, the store manager, is one of several Deaf store leaders at Starbucks, and a graduate of Gallaudet.

Other design considerations 

Edges on furniture and walls are rounded to soften harsh corners and improve flow. Textural gradients, open sightlines and counter height create a sense of direction and approachability. In the bathroom, to limit reaching, a 3-in-1 device dispenses water and soap and dries hands.

“At Starbucks, we have challenged ourselves to imagine what’s possible when we take a closer look at all the many ways our partners and customers interact with us and experience our stores every day,” says Katie Young, senior vice president of store operations. “Building and scaling an Inclusive Store Framework is central to our mission of connection and will lead to greater access for all.”

A place in the world: Deaf artist hopes mural at D.C. Starbucks sparks conversations about inclusion, accessibility 

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