Ordering a "grande four-pump, nonfat, no-whip, extra-hot mocha" is a mouthful for any hot beverage nerd, but for deaf people, it can be hard to order just a simple cup of black coffee. Global coffee behemoth Starbucks' "Signing Store Project," launching in Washington, D.C. in October, aims to change that.
Adam Novsam, a deaf utility analyst at Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, knows firsthand how frustrating it can be to accomplish even the most basic transactions in the hearing world.
"Before I go into any store, I'm anticipating and figuring out how I'm going to order and communicate. Typically, it is not an easy or smooth experience," Novsam says. "Sometimes I'll try to lipread, and that often results in misunderstanding my order, especially if they have a question. Sometimes I will gesture for paper and pen and the person will appear annoyed with me or seem exasperated that it is taking extra time."
Novsam's personal experience led him to become active in the Starbucks Deaf Leadership group and an advocate for the Signing Store Project's launch in the United States. The new store will be modeled after the first — and only — Starbucks deaf-friendly location in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where ergonomic design, customized order forms and a new queue management system were among the changes that helped create an environment to better serve deaf customers and employees.
"Starbucks has always hired the deaf at our stores even before we were planning the signing store," says Rina Siew, Starbucks corporate social responsibility manager for Malaysia. "However, we could only give them very simple and menial tasks. After a while, we realized that we needed to give them a platform where they could actually thrive, and where we as employers can provide a better partner experience for them."