Lonely Planet Writer

Employees at Starbucks' first 'signing store' in the US are all fluent in American Sign Language

Starbucks has opened its first ‘signing store’ in the US in Washington, DC and its employees are all fluent in American Sign Language, whether they are hearing, hard of hearing or deaf.

Employees at Starbucks’ first ‘signing store’ in the US are all fluent in American Sign Language. Image: Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks

Deaf employees wear special green aprons created by a deaf supplier and embroidered with the ASL fingerspelling of Starbucks. Those who hear wear traditional green aprons with “I Sign” pins.

Deaf employees wear special green aprons embroidered with the ASL fingerspelling of Starbucks. Image: Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks

The new store is located down the street from Gallaudet University, a bilingual institution for deaf and hard of hearing students. Its infrastructure and experiences were designed to create a melding of worlds and the best possible experience for staff and customers alike.

The store itself was designed with accessibility in mind, with more open space, anti-glare surfaces and visual displays for customers to check and pick up orders.

Those who hear wear traditional green aprons with “I Sign” pins. Image: Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks

For customers new to sign language, it features some high-tech options for assisting with communication, ordering drinks and receiving beverages at the hand-off counter. These include digital notepads and a console with two-way keyboards for back-and-forth typed conversations.

The signing store features various options for assisting with communication. Image: Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks

The signing store offers an opportunity for hearing customers to learn some ASL, such as discovering how to sign words from the “sign of the week” chalkboard above the register. It also gives them an insight into the deaf experience or deaf culture, like seeing the way deaf staff interact with each other or being a hearing customer able to communicate with partners and order a beverage without speaking a word.

The signing store offers an opportunity for the hearing to learn some ASL. Image: Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks

The new store is located at the intersection of 6th and H streets in Washington, D.C.