Coffee

Starbucks supports hearing-impaired barista's with sign language aprons

Next time you step into Starbucks, your barista’s uniform might look a little different. The Seattle-based coffeehouse chain has recently provided 50 of its deaf employees with a rendition of the chain’s traditional green apron that features “Starbucks” spelled out in American Sign Language (ASL). According to a statement, the special aprons “serve as both a visual cue for customers and a point of Deaf cultural pride.”

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The idea comes from Katie Giles, a hearing-impaired barista in Washington, D.C. “My manager would give me instructions when my back was turned, so I couldn’t read her lips.” she told the Starbucks Newsroom. “She would write me up for not getting my job done.” Additionally, customers who didn’t know she was deaf would become upset with her if she didn’t respond or if she misinterpreted their drinks.

Giles met with representatives at the Starbucks Seattle headquarters to brainstorm a solution. The company currently provides its employees with other symbolic uniforms, such as an American flag-embroidered apron for veterans and military spouses. Giles thought that creating something similar could address her needs and those of other hearing-impaired Starbucks employees. A few months later, the company discovered a Malaysian Starbucks that had already implemented the ASL embroidery.

New aprons were then recreated by Angie Foster, a deaf woman who operates an embroidery shop in Maryland. “We were intent on finding a Deaf supplier, the first for Starbucks,” said Starbucks representative Marthalee Galeota. “Angie’s work is stellar and we hope this visibility will bring more business her way.”