Updated: Oct. 25, 2018 at 10:31 a.m.
When you enter Starbucks’ new location on H Street, the stark silence is welcoming.
The shop is the chain’s first U.S. location that specifically caters to the deaf and hard of hearing community with American Sign Language as its first language – a service customers said is needed to create an inclusive space for the population.
“Whenever deaf people enter the space, nobody is communicating with them,” Amelia Becker, a customer in the store Wednesday, said. “Now it’s the opposite.”
The storefront, which opened Tuesday at 625 H St. NE, is located minutes from Gallaudet University – a university that caters to the deaf and hard of hearing.
The shop is the first national location that is bilingual in ASL and English. The chain implemented its first signing store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016.
The storefront exterior is peppered with umbrellas and a wall decal that depict the hand symbol letters spelling out Starbucks. Inside, colorful art drawn by deaf artists illustrate words in ASL about sharing coffee, and other signage indicates the storefront’s dedication to serving the hard of hearing community.
Customers signed to each other before heading inside and some took selfies outside of the storefront Wednesday afternoon. Other customers used FaceTime inside, exchanging ASL with an online friend, to showcase the new space.
Patricia and John Dyreson, a married couple from Wisconsin and graduates of Gallaudet University, returned to D.C. for a college reunion. They said they have seen a lot of changes to the neighborhood since they had last arrived, but the new Starbucks was an especially welcome addition.
“It’s amazing, wow, it’s full of deaf people,” Patricia Dyreson said through signing. “I haven’t seen this many deaf people in one place.”
The storefront is also a harbor for deaf employees, who often run into difficulties in the hiring process. Out of the location’s 25 workers, 19 are deaf and they are indicated by their aprons which spell out “Starbucks” in ASL.
Marthalee Galeota, the senior manager for accessibility, said in a release that the new store offers an opportunity for people to communicate in a different way.
“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,” Galeota said. “We think this store celebrates the culture of human connection on a deep level.”
Customers who are not fluent in ASL may feel disoriented when they first enter the store, but there are pictorial menu displays you can point to and an interpreter or two staffed behind the register. If in doubt, a poster containing the alphabet in ASL stands next to the baked goods booth.
Yiming Wang, a customer from Northern Virginia, came to Starbucks with her baby boy, who she is teaching ASL along with English and Mandarin. She said she was shocked when she received an email about the signing store’s opening and has only heard of places catering to the deaf community sparsely through California and Canada.
“Gallaudet helps get deaf people here, and it’s also a good environment for deaf workers,” Wang said. “There are different deaf groups in other cities, but D.C. is tops. Others are much more small.”
This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the new Starbucks location is in Northwest D.C. The shop is in Northeast D.C. We regret this error.