While people all over the United States showed support and enthusiasm for Starbucks newest stores in Washington DC that featured an “Signing Starbucks” staff that communicate via computers and American Sign Language, the realistic question that I am thinking is that is this business plan sustainable?
The Starbucks sign is shown on Monday, October 22, 2018 at Starbucks first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
DID YOU KNOW? “Signing Starbucks” is not all deaf, in fact,it is a mixture of deaf, hard of hearing and hearing Baristas. All staff are trained and required to know ASL, but there are hearing staff that have special buttons that identifies that they are hearing, but know how to “sign”.
Starbucks is banking on an idea that an accessible location near Gallaudet University will enable to connect with customers whom are deaf and/or hard of hearing as well as to convince the general public that they want to send the message that their coffee is accessible to all. While this is a groundbreaking and historic move from Starbucks as a company, what they fail to see is how they can make all Starbucks across the United States and all over the world accessible to all.
Partners take an order on Monday, October 22, 2018 at Starbucks first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Inspired by a similar store in a Malaysia that opened in 2016 showed that this business plan could be sustainable. After two years, Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur showed that with nine Deaf partners that their Starbucks could run successfully and make a profit. It is interesting to note that Malaysia was a testing ground for Starbucks to see if an “Starbucks Signing Store” could be successful and profitable in Malaysia. After a two-year study and frequent observations, Starbucks HQ decided that they could give it a try in the United States.
A mural is shown on Monday, October 22, 2018 at Starbucks first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Using prior experiences, Starbucks created a brilliant infrastructure at the new Washington, D.C. location by incorporating unknown Deaf Artist to well-known locals in the Gallaudet community. Yet, what is unknown and not mentioned by the media is that “Starbucks Signing Store” does have some hearing members at their store. This is, at best, a mild deception, which, most hearing people will be relieved to hear that there is someone who is “hearing” who knows “ASL” and they will be able to communicate with them in their own language rather than “adaption” of another language in that community. Think of it this way, it’s like Starbucks created a “Spanish Starbucks” in Spain, but they still have some “American” on staff if there’s some miscommunication between them and their clients. So, exactly, what is the point of having an “Signing Starbucks” if there’s still some staff that whom are hired at that location to ensure their clients have someone whom they can communicate with if something goes wrong?
Roberta J. Cordano, President of Gallaudet University, is greeted by Starbucks store partners on Monday, October 22, 2018 at Starbucks first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C. Gallaudet is a university in Washington D.C. created for deaf and hard of hearing people. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Gallaudet is an interesting choice; did you know that Rochester, NY has the highest per capita number of Deaf people in the United States, yet they don’t have a “Starbuck Signing Store”? Why is that? In fact, in Rochester, New York, they have a K-12 school located downtown Rochester, they have a famous college called Rochester Institute of Technology that host the largest technical school called National Technology Institute of Deaf that has over 3,000 students. Now imagine giving those students a job to help them pay for their college education? Boom.
Chelsea, on Monday, October 22, 2018 at Starbucks first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C. Partners in the store are all deaf, hard of hearing or able to speak sign language. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
One of the questions that begs an answer is will other companies follow Starbucks lead? Will Peet’s Coffee setup an “Peet’s Signing Store”, “Tim Horton’s Signing Store”, or even, gasp, “Dunkin Donuts Signing Store” and that answer itself will surprise you…most likely, no.
You see, Starbucks is using this as a publicity/marketing opportunity, and yes, it is simple as that.
Partners pose for a group photo on Saturday, October 20, 2018 at Starbucks first U.S. Signing Store in Washington D.C.(Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Inspiration porn is not new and companies love using it; in fact, it’s the number one trending thing billion-dollar companies are using to gain better customers and audiences. Starbucks is the latest to use it and it’s not their fault; it’s actually the customers and client’s fault. Think about it, Starbucks could of implemented an all-store policy for all of its stores all over the world to accommodate customers whom are deaf and/or hard of hearing by using what they learned from Malaysia (television screen with customers name to let them know their orders are ready; iPad to write down orders for people whom are deaf and hard of hearing; but failed to provide better access for people whom are deaf/blind). EXAMPLES OF INSPIRATION PORN:
  1. Derrick Coleman “Durrcell” commercial. Feb 14, 2014
  2. Terrylene Sacchetti Oreo Commercial. 1999
  3. Hearing Hands – Touching Ad By Samsung. 2015
  4. Wonderful Day by Marriot. 2017
  5. Wells Fargo Commercial: Learning Sign Language. 2015
  6. PANTENE : A Very Touching Deaf Violinist Commercial. 2010
  7. #ReinventGiving with ‘Brothers’. 2016
  8. Your Touch is Enough, Mom | JOHNSON’S® 2016
  9. Bob’s House — Pepsi’s new Super Bowl Ad. 2008
  10. Safelite AutoGlass’ Deaf & Hard of Hearing/ Sign Language TV Commercial. 2014
  11. Bayer aspirin sign language commercial. 1995
  12. Whirlpool – Congrats, parents. 2018
  13. We Are America ft. John Cena | Love Has No Labels | Ad Council. 2016
  14. Marlee Matlin Apple Macintosh Commercial. 2006
  15. iPod Shuffle commercial with Sign Language. 2007
Genius of Starbuck inspiration porn is that they actually got people from the Deaf Community to praise Starbucks; Howard Rosenblum of NAD takes the entire staff to Starbucks and shares it on Instagram with 17K followers, in fact, in an interview with the WP he said, “that companies may hire deaf employees at lower levels, but those opportunities rarely extend up the chain.“.
Marlee Matlin goes to “Signing Starbucks” and shares it with her 178K followers, check out her video. Roberta Cordano, President of Gallaudet University is quoted in Fortune that Starbucks’ decision to open the new store “expands the definition of what most people think of when they consider diversity.” Cordano added, “Besides creating an ambient and fully accessible environment for members of the deaf community, this new store creates employment and advancement opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people, as baristas, store managers, and other roles.” What they all missed was that they should have advocated that all Starbucks in the United States and around the world should have this level of accessibility at every single Starbucks as well at all stores and companies in the Untied States and around the world. “Signing Starbucks” sustainable? Of course, it is. But, the bigger question is, can companies start advancing opportunities for deaf, hard of hearing and/or deaf-blind people to take on leadership roles now and in the future?

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Thomsen Young

Founder of TSG