“Aira [is] a service we tested in seven U.S. cities early this year, including at our Signing Store in Washington, D.C.,” Sevana Massih, inclusion and diversity program manager of accessibility at Starbucks, told Inside Retail.
Last year, Starbucks’ Accessibility Office stepped up efforts to create a more inclusive experience by partnering with the company’s store design team and internal innovation hub, the Tryer Center. As a result of this partnership, store equipment has been made more accessible for staff and the company’s website and app have been overhauled to be more inclusive, among other projects.
In the coming months, Starbucks will also roll out large-print and Braille menus, developed in partnership with National Braille Press, at all stores across the US and Canada.
“We continue to test projects that integrate accessibility into the Starbucks experience, including clear face masks for partners to help those who read lips and updates to the Starbucks App and Starbucks.com/menu to enhance accessibility for people with disabilities,” Massih said.
These are the latest in a long line of accessibility measures introduced at the coffee chain over the years. In 2006, Starbucks established the Disability Advocacy Partner network to “help foster a community of awareness, inclusion, and accessibility” for team members, or “partners” as they are known internally, with apparent and non-apparent disabilities.
In the United States, Starbucks offers resources such as American Sign Language interpreting services and real-time captioning services, and staff members who pass an ASL (American Sign Language) proficiency interview are awarded an “I sign” pin to open up communication with the Deaf community.
As part of its work, Starbucks conducts research and gathers feedback from people with a wide range of disabilities. Massih told Inside Retail that this collaborative learning is essential to ensure the retailer is “designing with accessibility as the standard”.
“We believe that co-creating with the disability community is how we find the best possible solution for our business,” she said.
“We collaborate with our partners, inclusive design experts, the disability community and organisations like the World Institute on Disability to improve physical and digital experiences for partners and customers.”
Inclusivity through design
In 2016, the retailer opened its first Signing Store in Malaysia. Today, Starbucks has nine signing stores globally. These stores aim to offer an inclusive retail experience and create career opportunities for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Our nine Signing Stores across the globe feature design elements that address major aspects of the Deaf experience, including an open environment for communication, low glare reflective surfaces and point-of-sale systems with an attached customer display, as well as store partners who are proficient in sign language,” Massih said.
“We are constantly evaluating our store portfolio to ensure we’re delivering the best possible store experience for everyone. This spirit of inclusion can be seen in our Signing Stores, which are dedicated to uniting people through sign language and Deaf culture.”
Building a diverse workforce
Staff members at all US Signing Stores are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and with every Signing Store that opens outside of the US, Starbucks partners with organisations to offer professional skills training, sign language courses and internship opportunities to create more opportunities for the Deaf workforce.
“We have a long history of active employment and providing opportunities for the Deaf and hard of hearing community, and our Signing Stores are an example of how we are building inclusive environments and careers for our partners,” Massih said.
“With their experience in working with the Deaf and hard of hearing community, these partners help attract and develop talent, as well as raise awareness and understanding of the Deaf experience in the workforce, resulting in career opportunities at Starbucks and beyond.”
Supporting people with disabilities on both sides of the checkout is something that Starbucks has committed itself to, and demonstrates the authenticity of its initiatives.
In the US, employees have the option to request disability accommodation to ensure they have all the tools and services they need.
“We believe that having a diverse and inclusive workforce reflects who we are as a company and our success in the future. True to this belief, we strive to support and empower partners with disabilities in every market we serve,” Massih said.
“We also offer on-the-job training programs for people with cognitive and physical disabilities through Starbucks Inclusion Academy. In partnership with local rehabilitation service providers, the Inclusion Academy provides job training and opportunities to individuals with disabilities to gain skills and work experience in manufacturing, distribution centers and U.S. roasting plants.”
Similarly, in Japan, Starbucks offers training tools and accessibility aids, flexible work hours and coaching services to help employees with disabilities develop their careers, while in South Korea, the Korea Disabled People’s Development Institute (KODDI) has helped the business provide additional training across the region since 2018.