Starbucks opens first sign language store in US

WASHINGTON: Rebecca Witzofsky, a 20-year-old deaf student at Gallaudet
University in Washington, and her hearing friend Nikolas Carapellatti
wanted to get a coffee.

But on Tuesday (Oct 23), Witzofsky finally didn't have to struggle to make her order understood.

US coffee giant Starbucks opened its first "signing store" in the United
States in northeast Washington near the campus of Gallaudet, the
world's only university with an entire curriculum designed to
accommodate the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

At the store, all staff - most of them deaf or hard-of-hearing
themselves - are required to communicate with customers using sign

The cafe is modelled after a store that opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016.

At first glance, it doesn't look any different from a regular Starbucks,
seen on seemingly every other street corner in the US capital.

Employees wearing black shirts and green aprons emblazoned with the
company logo scurry behind the counter to serve hot drinks, cold drinks
and pastries to an eager clientele.

But despite the crowd - perhaps unusually big for mid-morning on a
Tuesday - the cafe enjoyed a surprising calm, probably because most
conversations were held in silence.

For Witzofsky, it was a revelation.

"It gives deaf people space off-campus, a place to come to and
socialise, eat food with other deaf people and meet other deaf people as
well, and the deaf employees," she told AFP.

"When I go to a normal Starbucks, I either talk and hope they can hear
me and understand, or I show them my order on my phone," she explained.

"Here, your name appears on a screen, which I really, really like,
because when they call my order I don't have to try to hear it - it's
right on the screen."


The store has other specific features designed to embrace and celebrate deaf culture - one is the "sign of the week".

Right now, it's for coffee: two closed fists, one on top of the other, rotating in a move that brings to mind a coffee grinder.

There are also special mugs for sale with designs by a deaf artist, and a transcription of how to sign the logo of the store.

Starbucks says the initiative is aimed at bringing diverse communities
together. It comes six months after the arrest of two black men in a
Philadelphia store that sparked accusations of racism.

The opening got a boost from the presence of Oscar-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin.

Seated on an outside patio with their coffees, retired couple Albert and
Peggy Hlibok said they had come to the store to "intermingle with the
hearing world".

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for all of us," said Peggy, with the help of an interpreter.

"It will teach people not to be afraid to communicate with deaf people.
They can see it's just part of who we are, part of our lives, part of
the diversity of life."

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