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Starbucks is opening its first U.S. cafe staffed by employees who are partially or fully deaf and capable of communicating in American Sign Language in early October.
The company announced Thursday that it’s converting an existing Starbucks location in Washington, D.C., near Gallaudet University into what it calls a Signing Store. The chain will hire 20 to 25 people from across the country who know ASL
“The store will create a distinctive retail experience for all customers, while offering a unique store format that promotes accessibility and offers employment and career advancement opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people,” Starbucks said in a statement.
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It will be modeled on the Seattle-based coffee chain’s first signing store, which opened in Malaysia in 2016, the company said. The plan to open a Signing Store in the U.S. crystallized last July when American Starbucks employees traveled to Kuala Lumpur to study the one there.
Deaf baristas at the store at Sixth and H streets will wear ASL aprons embroidered by a deaf supplier and hearing baristas who sign will have “I Sign” pins. The coffee shop also will boast exclusive artwork, a custom mug designed by a deaf artist and special deaf-friendly features, like low-glare reflective surfaces.
The National Association of the Deaf applauded the news.
“Starbucks has taken an innovative approach to incorporating deaf culture that will increase employment opportunities as well as accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people, while at the same time educating and enlightening society,” the organization’s CEO Howard Rosenblum said in a statement.
The Signing Store announcement comes three months after Starbucks was thrust into the national spotlight amid criticism that its stores weren’t inclusive.
In mid-April, two African-American men were arrested for trespassing at one of the chain’s Philadelphia locations after they declined to purchase anything while waiting for a business meeting. Starbucks and its top executives repeatedly apologized and settled with the two men for an undisclosed amount of money. Six weeks later, the chain also held racial-bias training for employees at its 8,000-plus company-owned U.S. stores and corporate headquarters.
In a magical moment at Disneyland, Minnie, Mickey and Pluto communicate with a little boy in sign language.
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