In Washington, D.C., Starbucks has opened a new sign language store with employees who can speak ASL. The branch is located beside Gallaudet University, a private school for students who are deaf or have partial hearing loss. With this decision, Starbucks has continued the conversation on accessibility for all types of customers.
For those who don’t live with disabilities, it can be difficult to imagine what it is like to live with one, and this makes it harder to empathize with those who do. This is not, however, an excuse to simply continue to live in ignorance. Starbucks has taken the proper first steps, and other companies should follow suit not only to gain more customers, but to also show that no matter what demographic you fit in, you have the right to do what you want.
Starbucks has showcased their new store by interviewing the employees who work there. All the workers have inspiring and amazing stories, and some are even pursuing higher education as they work part-time. Special pins indicate that the staff can speak ASL; those who are deaf or hard of hearing wear aprons with “Starbucks” in ASL, and others wear the pins that say “I Sign.” Customers who don’t know how to sign can still order by writing on a tablet. The Starbucks Foundation has even taken a step further by donating $50,000 to the National Association of the Deaf—showing the company’s dedication to the accessibility cause.
It can be argued that having a specific store for sign language is actually alienating the community; there’s the idea that by creating a store for the deaf and hard of hearing, it implies that other stores are by default not for the deaf and hard of hearing. However, this line of thinking fails to acknowledge what a special café like this one means to those living with hearing disabilities. It’s more than just a store where a customer can order in ASL; it’s a reminder that there are other people who empathize with you and are willing to help, and no one is suggesting people who speak in sign language can't go anywhere else.
One can feel isolated and alone when it seems like no one understands what it’s like to live without the ability to hear completely. Seeing an employee who can sign and understand can be refreshing and heartwarming to someone who feels alone. If more companies follow the steps of Starbucks, more customers can begin to feel included in the community—even if it’s just having employees who speak ASL and not necessarily a dedicated ASL store. We, as a community, can also contribute to this by learning the basics of signing!