Starbucks Opens First US ‘Signing Store’ to Serve Deaf Customers
Starbucks opened its first U.S. “signing store,” accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing customers in Washington, D.C. The coffee chain first announced its plans to cater to these communities over the summer.
The D.C. store was modeled after the Starbucks “signing store” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that opened in 2016. In a press release, the company announced the opening of its new store, and introduced the store manager, Matthew Gilsbach whose family learned he was deaf at 18 months old. Gilsbach will be leading efforts at the new D.C. store, including a team of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing partners. Employees at the store are required to be proficient in American Sign Language (ASL).
Starbucks executive vice president of U.S. retail, Rossann Williams, called the push a “historic moment” in a statement over the summer.
The Starbucks signing store is located just blocks from Gallaudet University, one of the oldest universities serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in the country. “I hope the Signing Store will be embraced and accepted by those that live in this community. The fact that it is so close to Gallaudet University makes it that much more special,” said Crystal Harris, a barista who also works in financial services at Gallaudet while pursuing a PhD in education.
Gallaudet University president Roberta Cordano, who is also the university’s first deaf woman president, said in a statement obtained by Fortune that Starbucks’ decision to open the new store “expands the definition of what most people think of when they consider diversity.” Cordano added, “Besides creating an ambient and fully accessible environment for members of the deaf community, this new store creates employment and advancement opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people, as baristas, store managers, and other roles.”