Starbucks has announced its first U.S. signing store catering to deaf and hard of hearing people.

Opening in October in Washington, D.C, the store will employ 20-25 deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing workers fluent in American Sign Language. The location, near Gallaudet University — a private university for deaf and hard of hearing people — was chosen because it's already a vibrant, deaf-friendly hub.

The idea for the store came from a team of deaf Starbucks partners and allies who were inspired by the opening of Starbucks' first signing store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016. Like the Malaysian store, the D.C. location will provide both employment opportunities and a highly inclusive gathering space for the deaf/hard of hearing community and their friends.


That's great news for deaf and hard of hearing folks, who often face significant barriers to finding and keeping employment.

The simple act of ordering a cup of coffee is something many hearing people take for granted. Having a store where customers can order in sign language and know they will be understood is a boon to those who need it.

Just as impactful, however, is the purposeful embrace of employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.

According to the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes, 72% of hearing Americans of working age are employed, while only 48% of deaf Americans are. And almost half of deaf unemployed people are not in the labor force at all, meaning they have either given up on finding employment or have decided for some reason not to seek it.

Barriers to employment for deaf and hard of hearing people include employers having an inadequate understanding of "reasonable accommodations" required by law, difficulties in communication, and inadequate educational preparation. In addition, 1 in 4 deaf workers have quit a job due to discrimination in the workplace.

Starbucks creating a mainstream workplace specifically catering to deaf and hard of hearing employees is a big deal.

Advocates have lauded the store opening as a step forward.

"The National Association of the Deaf applauds Starbucks for opening a Signing Store that employs Deaf and hard of hearing people," said Howard A. Rosenblum, the org's CEO. "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."

Deaf actress Marlee Matlin celebrated the announcement on Twitter.

And when Starbucks responded to her tweet with a person signing "thank you," Matlin said she "couldn't wait to order [her] nonfat hot chai latte in sign."

Other people who communicate differently, such as some people on the autism spectrum who also utilize sign language, are also expressing excitement about the new store.

Starbucks' inclusiveness initiatives can serve as an example to corporate America.

The coffee giant doesn't exactly have a perfect track record when it comes to inclusiveness, having made news for a racist incident in a Philadelphia store earlier in 2018. In response, the corporation shut down 8,000 of its U.S. stores for a day in order to engage 175,000 employees in a company-wide racial bias training. The one-day training received mixed reviews, but Starbucks says it was just the beginning and that it has begun making such trainings part of the onboarding process for new employees.

Despite some bumps along the way, it's clear that Starbucks has consistently endeavored to lead the way in addressing systemic issues and creating inclusive workplaces and consumer environments. This new signing store is a great example of giving marginalized people the reins, supporting an initiative led by those people themselves, and pushing inclusiveness into the mainstream.

Well done, Starbucks.

Starbucks Announces First U.S. Signing Store

We are excited to announce that our first Signing Store in the U.S. will open in Washington, D.C. this October, building on our ongoing efforts to connect with the diverse communities we serve. Learn more here: https://sbux.co/2LarhAk

Posted by Starbucks Partners - Access Alliance on Thursday, July 19, 2018

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