BREAKING NEWS Football game between Huntsville and Grissom high schools cancelled due to coronavirus case Full Story
SEVERE WX : Flash Flood Watch View Alerts

Starbucks opens its first US sign language store in Washington, DC

How do you say "frappuccino" in American Sign Language?That's one of the many questions customers hav...

Posted: Oct 23, 2018 3:49 PM
Updated: Oct 23, 2018 3:49 PM

How do you say "frappuccino" in American Sign Language?

That's one of the many questions customers have at the latest branch of Starbucks, which opened on October 23 in Washington, DC.

Companies

Continents and regions

Disability and society

Diseases and disorders

Ear, nose and throat disorders

Health and medical

Hearing impairment

Humanities and social sciences

Language and languages

North America

Northeastern United States

Society

Starbucks Corp

The Americas

United States

Washington, D.C.

USA travel guide

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Coffee and tea shops

Food and beverage industry

Food and drink

Restaurant and food service industry

Restaurant industry

Restaurants

Beverages

Coffee

Consumer products

Kinds of foods and beverages

While this Starbucks looks like every other outlet of the coffee chain -- mermaid logo, mugs for sale, baristas in bright green aprons -- there's one thing that makes it very special. Every single employee here is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL).

Starbucks chose a block of H Street Northeast for its inaugural ASL store because of its proximity to Gallaudet University, the world's only liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Walking in

Even before you set foot in this Starbucks location, it's clear that something is different. Eagle-eyed pedestrians will notice that the umbrellas in front of the store have "Starbucks" printed on them in English and ASL fingerspelling.

When you walk in, you'll notice that the store, unlike every other Starbucks in the world, doesn't have ambient music.

To the right of the entrance is a bright, colorful mural by a deaf artist. There's a display of mugs exclusive to this Starbucks -- they have the brand's name sign, illustrated with green hands -- and a chalkboard displaying the ASL vocabulary word of the week. (This week's, fittingly, is "coffee.")

At the register, guests often begin to figure out what is going on. Some attempt to point at menu items, while others make use of tablets that Starbucks have provided for people to prefer to write down their orders. There is also a two-way communication tablet in case of questions such as "what kind of milk?"

"At the point of sale, people see [signing] immediately and sometimes stand there in awe," Kylie Garcia, a deaf barista, tells CNN Travel. "They're used to talking to people right away. It's a role reversal."

There are also more subtle ways that deaf space is considered. Most chairs and tables are low to aid visibility. Lights are bright, and surfaces are matte to reduce glare.

Redefining inclusivity

One thing that staff members here emphasize is that the store isn't about deaf versus hearing, which doesn't quite capture the community accurately. They prefer "signer" or "nonsigner."

That inclusive language brings in people who are deaf and hard of hearing; CODAs (hearing Children of Deaf Adults, which includes this author); people who are deaf and blind; and also others.

But many of the store's employees -- called "partners" in Starbucksese -- emphasize that language is just one part of what makes this shop friendly to signers.

"This is an opportunity to model what deaf-centric space looks like," says barista Joey Lewis.

Several baristas note that the deaf and hard of hearing community suffers from chronic underemployment, with qualified applicants struggling to find work simply because of language barriers. He gets emotional about how meaningful it was to be taught to make coffee in ASL and be trained for a job in his native language.

News of the store has also been exciting for members of the local deaf and hard of hearing community, especially students from MSSD, the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, a high school which is adjacent to Gallaudet.

"Kids from MSSD say that they can be baristas," Crystal Harris tells CNN. Harris grew up in a nonsigning family and was sent to a mainstream school. She didn't begin to learn sign language until she came to DC at 19 to take classes at Gallaudet. She works part-time at Starbucks while finishing her studies.

"I'm in a deaf environment now. This is a creative opportunity, but it's just the beginning."

And while Garcia is thrilled to work with other signers, she's careful to note that one store is just one store. She sees many other opportunities for Starbucks and other businesses to figure out how to include deaf and hard of hearing customers. "What about a drive-thru?" she points out.

And beyond

It wasn't only members of the deaf community who were excited to see an ASL-friendly business open up in the neighborhood.

"I think this might be a good place for people to get exposure to ASL and deaf culture and interface with their neighbors in an easy way," Kirsten Schofield, a writer who lives off H Street, told CNN.

Pamela Pipes, a hearing barista who is trained as an interpreter and relocated to the DC area just to work at this Starbucks, nods in assent.

She makes a sign that looks like an open hand closing into a fist next to her neck, which roughly translates to "close up your voice." In other words, even though Pipes is capable of speaking English, she turns her voice off when she gets to work. This store is one of the few places where hearing people can experience what it might be like for a deaf person to get through an everyday experience as common as ordering coffee with a language barrier.

Part of the store's appeal to Schofield is simply access. This new Starbucks is now the closest coffee shop to her apartment. But she has also become interested in learning sign language since moving to the area and seeing so many Gallaudet students talking every day.

It's clear that she isn't the only one in the area who sees the Starbucks as a way to learn more about her deaf neighbors.

Several community groups, including the DC public library system, offer free ASL classes to locals who want to pick up basic vocabulary. Schofield took one after seeing a flyer at Union Market, a food hall near Gallaudet.

Now, she says, the ASL Starbucks has inspired her to brush up. She went online to learn how to sign "coffee" and plans to order her first drink in ASL. Slowly.

For Matthew Gilsbach, the store's manager, the signing Starbucks exemplifies the concept of a "third place" -- a space other than the home or the office where people can gather and socialize. For signers, who often have to learn to get by or manage in hearing-centric spaces, a deaf "third place" is extra special.

"I want to invite people into our world," says Garcia. "We can share a cup of coffee here."

Huntsville
Overcast
71° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 71°
Florence
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 66°
Fayetteville
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 64°
Decatur
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
Scottsboro
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 132452

Reported Deaths: 2335
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19230342
Mobile13192291
Montgomery8711175
Madison767475
Tuscaloosa7355114
Lee576560
Shelby576550
Baldwin512449
Marshall388943
Calhoun339040
Etowah338447
Morgan322626
Houston275322
Elmore258647
DeKalb237519
St. Clair225535
Walker225080
Talladega209927
Limestone202119
Cullman186819
Dallas176226
Franklin174828
Russell17302
Autauga171425
Lauderdale166233
Colbert162126
Blount157314
Escambia157325
Jackson152711
Chilton151328
Dale134143
Covington133427
Coffee12898
Pike11729
Chambers114042
Tallapoosa113984
Clarke106317
Marion95228
Butler91138
Barbour8487
Winston71812
Marengo70219
Lowndes65127
Pickens63914
Bibb63510
Randolph62413
Hale61628
Lawrence60320
Bullock59314
Geneva5844
Monroe5798
Cherokee57516
Clay5537
Washington54913
Perry5396
Conecuh53011
Wilcox53011
Crenshaw52532
Henry4805
Macon47920
Fayette4299
Sumter42319
Lamar3552
Choctaw34612
Cleburne3346
Greene30215
Coosa1673
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 185148

Reported Deaths: 2261
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30244449
Davidson26087294
Hamilton921189
Rutherford905888
Knox905273
Williamson509636
Sumner472193
Wilson338443
Putnam308838
Montgomery297143
Out of TN296825
Unassigned28916
Bradley286817
Madison275060
Sevier253715
Blount244923
Maury227423
Washington218634
Robertson217334
Sullivan207131
Hamblen183925
Tipton174517
Trousdale16517
Gibson154520
Hardeman153425
Wayne14856
Bedford131317
Dyer128712
Dickson120714
Cumberland115518
Fayette114418
Anderson113811
Henderson113520
Carter112728
Coffee112512
Weakley112219
Loudon11216
Greene111237
Obion10969
McMinn107624
Jefferson107414
Macon102320
Warren10127
Monroe100316
Lawrence97711
Hardin97214
Lauderdale94215
Franklin9267
Haywood92416
Lake9152
Roane8493
Bledsoe8454
Carroll83918
McNairy81618
Cheatham79310
Rhea78811
White7889
Hawkins77316
Cocke7369
Marshall7205
Overton6815
Smith67810
Johnson6492
Henry6079
Chester5959
Lincoln5811
Giles56917
DeKalb54713
Hickman5465
Crockett51319
Marion5047
Decatur4796
Fentress4473
Claiborne4384
Campbell4213
Polk38011
Grainger3543
Union3391
Benton3329
Jackson3085
Morgan3063
Unicoi2801
Cannon2790
Grundy2565
Humphreys2353
Sequatchie2233
Meigs2213
Clay2115
Scott2022
Houston1931
Lewis1791
Stewart1772
Moore1541
Van Buren1540
Perry1500
Hancock1063
Pickett1032

Community Events