On October 23, Starbucks opened a new store in Washington D.C. Unlike other openings, this store opening was special for the company. The Starbucks Signing Store is the first of its kind for the brand and the country. The team of employees at this location are all fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) Located down the street from Gallaudet University, a bilingual (English and ASL) institution for Deaf and hard of hearing students, the design of the new store was created to offer the best experience for all—welcoming customers of all kinds, whether they are Deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing.
A Different Kind of Store
Before customers even enter the Signing Store, they are greeted with a unique design noting how the store differs from other Starbucks stores. Lining the sidewalk outside the Signing Store, custom umbrellas feature the company name along with the ASL finger-spelling of Starbucks.
A Unique Design
“In 2005, the ASL Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University and architect Hansel Bauman created the DeafSpace Project, cataloguing design elements that address major aspects of the Deaf experience with the built environment, including space and proximity, sensory reach, mobility and proximity, light and color and acoustics,” reported Starbucks. Taking these elements into consideration, Starbucks incorporated aspects of DeafSpace, like an open environment for communication and low-glare surfaces, into the design.
Highlighting Deaf Artistry
To celebrate the new store, Deaf artist Jena Floyd designed a special mug for the store. “I’m still pinching myself that my work on the mug will be seen by the public—especially with the exposure from Starbucks,” Floyd said. “Also, I’m so excited to see the first Signing Store here in America—especially with the design inside the store that’s Deaf-friendly, staff that use ASL, and artwork by Deaf artists. This is something tangible we as Deaf people can show what we’re capable of as contributing citizens of our society.”
Sign Of The Week
The Signing Store offers hearing customers who don’t know ASL an opportunity to learn something each time they pick up a coffee. Above the register a chalkboard will feature a “sign of the week” that will help people add to their ASL vocabulary. Other learning opportunities, like learning to sign, can also be observed in the Signing Store.
A Symbolic Green Apron
The entire team at the Signing Store is proficient in ASL, whether they are hearing, hard of hearing or Deaf. Deaf partners wear special green aprons that are embroidered with the ASL finger-spelling of Starbucks. Several hearing partners on the team will be wearing traditional green aprons, but will have a special “I Sign” pins to show they are fluent in ASL. These pins are available to any Starbucks partner worldwide with sign language proficiency.
A Mural Brings It All Together
Welcoming customers as they walk into the store is a mural created by Yiqiao Wang, a deaf artist and adjunct professor at Gallaudet University. The signs, symbols, and letters bring together important aspects of Deaf culture, ASL, coffee, and English. “In the center of the piece, you can see two very strong hands, arms raised up, rising from the bottom of the artwork,” Wang said. “Deaf people can see that. It means community in ASL, and bringing various backgrounds, languages and people all together.”
Technology Plays an Important Part in the Store
The Signing Store features high-tech options that will assist customers in ordering and receiving drinks. The store is outfitted with digital notepads and a console with two-way keyboards for back-and-forth typed conversations that make the customer experience go smoothly from beginning to end.