Starbucks opens first signing store in DC

Starbucks opened its first U.S. “Signing Store” in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, allowing customers to order in American Sign Language (ASL).

The coffee chain announced in July that the existing Starbucks would be staffed by employees who are partially or fully deaf and converted to accommodate hard of hearing customers.

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Deaf baristas wear specialty aprons, featuring signs spelling out "Starbucks." Hearing baristas will wear “I Sign” pins, according to a news release from the company.

Customers can also write out their orders on tablets and drinks available for pick-up will be visible on a screen, rather than having baristas call out orders.

The store is located near Gallaudet University, the world’s only university designed to educate deaf and hard of hearing students. The store also features a wall mural created by a deaf artist and sells ASL mugs designed by a deaf artist.

The location includes other deaf-friendly features like low-glare reflective services.

Academy-Award winning actress Marlee Matlin visited the location on Tuesday to celebrate its opening.

The D.C. signing store is designed after a similar location that was opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016 with nine deaf partners.

Marthalee Galeota, senior manager for accessibility at Starbucks, said in a statement Monday that the U.S. store is unique because it mixes hearing, hard of hearing and deaf employees.

Galoeta said it puts all of the employees and customers “on an equal footing.”

“We really want people to experience the excitement of talking to somebody differently than they might have before,” Galeota said. “All the barriers are gone from being able to communicate, or from people being able to demonstrate their skills and show off the talent they have. We think this store celebrates the culture of human connection on a deep level.”