The Starbucks "Signing Store" is located near Gallaudet University, a private school for deaf students and others with partial hearing loss.
The coffee shop is staffed only by people fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf baristas wear green aprons that say “Starbucks” in ASL while other baristas wear pins that say “I Sign.”
Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, visited the store on its opening day.
She hailed the move when it was first announced by Starbucks in July, tweeting “Bravo” and “I can’t wait to order my hot chair latte (non fat) in sign.”
Customers who don’t know ASL can use a tablet to order at the store.
Each week the store posts a “sign of the week” that teaches customers a new sign in ASL. This week’s board shows how to sign the word “coffee.”
The Signing Store also features a custom mug and artwork that was designed by Yiqiao Wang, a deaf artist and adjunct professor at Gallaudet University.
The store was designed to help foster easy communication and is equipped with low glare reflective surfaces, open spaces and visual displays for customers to check and pick up orders.
Although this Starbucks store is the first in the U.S., a Starbucks Signing Store opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2016.
Starbucks said the D.C. effort was spearheaded by a team of deaf Starbucks employees, who traveled to Malaysia to get insight into building a similar store in the U.S.
“As a deaf person, you can have a job and you can have money and you can have life skills. And you can engage with people in the signing and non-signing community,” Signing Store manager Matthew Gilsbach said. “I’m excited to start this journey and to see what the Deaf and hearing communities can do together.”
The move was also hailed by Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf.
“We are making history. You are here. Remember where you were this date,” Rosenblum said at a launch party on Monday night. “I want to see many more of these. Please lead the way for other corporations and other businesses to open other signing stores and restaurants, starting this evening. Starting right here.”