Sipping at the new Starbucks signing store


Elyssa Abbott

The storefront of the Starbucks displays the name of the store in ASL. This gives a unique visual to catch people’s eyes as they walk down the street. “The Starbucks puts hearing people in deaf people’s shoes,” sophomore Devlin said.

Elyssa Abbott, Reporter, Photographer

The growing deaf community in Washington, D.C., inspired a deaf-friendly Starbucks that primarily uses American Sign Language (ASL), which opened on October 23. The store, located at the corner of 6th and H street, offers a variety of ways hearing people can interact with deaf people. The first signing store opened in Malaysia in 2016, but the D.C. location became the first of its kind in the U.S.

All employees at this Starbucks location consist of deaf people or hearing who know ASL fluently. People typically sign their order, but people who do not know ASL can order by writing their order on a tablet or pointing using a menu with pictures. Once the barista makes the drink, the customer’s name will flash onto a screen.

The Starbucks sits near Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf and hard of hearing. Around the college exists a prominent deaf community and makes D.C. a hub for the deaf.

“The store is a big step in the deaf community and it is bringing awareness that deaf people exist because a lot of people look over that,” sophomore and ASL student Lainey Devlin said.

Even the decorations around the store show deaf culture and make deaf people feel welcomed. A chalkboard sign displays the “Sign of the Week” to teach a sign to people that do not know ASL. The store also features a mural created by a deaf artist and an exclusive ASL decorated mug. On the front of the store and on the employee aprons, ASL signs spell out Starbucks. The countertops sit lower than normal, and the store provides more lighting than usual to accommodate visual communication. Every aspect of the store tailors its deaf clientele.  

“It gives deaf people a place that they can feel comfortable in and socialize. There is no pressure for the deaf people,” sophomore and ASL student Kaitlyn Union said.

The entrance to the D.C. Starbucks signing store welcomes you with a picture of the 25 employees. 19 of the employees remain deaf and 6 know ASL fluently. A chalkboard sign demonstrates a sign related to Starbucks and changes weekly.

Although Starbucks made the signing store for deaf people, hearing people feel just as welcome. The atmosphere appears warm and inviting, not awkward if the person does not know ASL. The store acts as a great place for hearing people to learn and practice ASL. In addition to everything else the store provides, it also produces accessibility, employment, and opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing. Evidently, the Starbucks signing store advances the deaf community immensely.

“I think it would great if they had more deaf friendly Starbucks locations because it would give the deaf community more exposure, especially in Atlanta, so I could go all the time,” ASL teacher Christina Hopper said.