It’s difficult to walk a block in most US cities without passing a Starbucks store. Arguably it’s more of an American institution than McDonalds. Even as an Aussie I’m a frequent customer when I travel to the US because of my not-so-secret addiction to Starbucks’ delicious pumpkin bread. It’s also one of my last stops before returning home so I can stock up on cake pops to bring home to Amelia. While I’ve visited many Starbucks stores, I’ve never been to a signing Starbucks until I visited the one in Washington DC, which was the first signing Starbucks in the US. The Washington DC Starbucks employs Deaf and hard of hearing people and American Sign Language (ASL) rules.
Starbucks Washington DC – first signing store in the US
After a lovely pizza dinner at Mozzeria DC, a Deaf owned and operated business in the H Corridor of Washington DC, the nearby Starbucks was a good stop for a refreshing drink before returning to Hotel Zena, my accessible base in Washington DC. From the outside the Starbucks store looks like every other Starbucks store but on closer inspection there are nods to Deaf culture everywhere, including atop the trademark green umbrellas out front which have subtle ASL signs printed on them.
The first signing Starbucks in the world opened in Malaysia in 2016 and provided a training model for other Starbucks stores around the world. As many people in the disability community know, employment opportunities for people with a disability are limited and unemployment rates in this sector are high, so it’s wonderful to see a brand like Starbucks creating work for Deaf individuals. The Washington DC Starbucks store is located near Gallaudet, the premier university for students who are Deaf or hearing impaired in the US.
Not only does the store provide valuable employment opportunities, but it also allows the community to enter, even if for a short time, into the Deaf and hard of hearing world. The Starbucks signing store also encourages customers to learn a bit of ASL while standing in line with the word of the week demonstrated in American Sign Language.
Every detail incorporated into the design of the Starbuck’s signing store incorporates Deaf people, including the stunning mural near the entry. The mural was designed by Yiqiao Wang a Deaf artist born in China who moved to the US to study at Gallaudet University. The mural celebrates the vibrant spirit of Deaf culture and each ASL letter has been chosen with great thought and meaning. I recommend checking out the explanation of the the mural if you head in store.
It’s also lovely that the Washington DC Starbucks signing store has custom souvenir drink cups reflecting the store’s uniqueness. I purchased a drink cup for Amelia, who uses Auslan (Australian sign language) in her work.
Custom branding has been used within the signing store including aprons which spell out Starbucks in ASL. The aprons were embroidered by a Deaf supplier.
The Washington DC signing store is also accessible to customers with a mobility restriction with a step-free entry and good circulations space inside. The store also offers Braille and large-print menus on request.
And don’t worry, if you don’t know ASL, doodle pads are provided to write down your order and gesturing works too. I did all of the above.
The drinks, food and service may all have the signature Starbucks feel but the Washington DC signing store has that something extra.
The Starbucks Signing Store in Washington DC is located at 625 H Street Washington, DC 20002
You can find out more about the first US signing store in the US located in Washington DC on the website.