Loving Sign Language in coffee shops: Could we do more?

The staff of DIB Coffees of Hawaii signing
The staff of DIB Coffees of Hawaii signing

We now have an example of retail establishments that cater to speakers of other languages.

Coffee shops are beginning to train personnel to serve members of the deaf community. They learn sign language so that customers who are deaf can have the same experience as customers who hear. Among these, Starbucks has received a lot of recognition. They are not the only one, though.

Can we use this step forward to introduce more languages? Since we know that these baristas can learn sign language, they can clearly learn other languages, like Spanish or Chinese or Somali, so that speakers of those languages can have a great experience in their stores.

Accommodating signers works the same way as adjusting to speakers of any other language. If accommodating signers becomes part of corporate strategy, then training the employees follows. What I see happening with these stores could be easily adopted for any language.

Starbucks does not have a monopoly on accommodating the deaf in their coffee shop, as the DIB Coffees of Hawaii in Malaysia speaks to customers in sign language. (I don’t know which sign language this interview is carried out in.) This compassionate cafe specializes in employing people who do not hear (DIB=Deaf in Business) to serve the deaf community, but they cater to all sorts of people with different abilities.

Starbucks followed suit when they opened up a shop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, catering to deaf employees and customers. In this video you can see all the employees of the store learning sign language. (It’s probably Malaysian Sign Language, which is closely related to American Sign Language.) Malaysia is a country of so many languages, it’s great to see them specialize in this one.

Starbucks Malaysia even has YouTube videos to teach you how to sign your favorite drink. They also depict greetings and other words. I want to know how to say these words in more languages! Starbucks-sponsored language videos!

At another Starbucks on my side of the Pacific, in Leesburg, Virginia, a barista learned ASL (American Sign Language) in order to speak to a regular customer, who is deaf.

Such a wonderful gesture! But if she can do it, who couldn’t? And if for ASL, why not another language?

Last year, a story broke about a two-way video camera at a drive-through at a Starbucks in St Augustine, Florida. Now all customers can use the drive-through equally.

They would evidently need bilingual staff to operate this video unit. If they are specially targeting bilinguals for employment, I’d like to know what other shops look for multilingual employees to communicate with various members of the community.

Still work to be done

Starbucks faced a lawsuit, nevertheless, by an employee who is deaf, who was fired after she had asked for seven years for an interpreter to help perform job tasks. (This requirement by employers is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

At a Starbucks in NYC, baristas called police to eject a group of customers who were deaf. Police refused to act on the baristas’ request, instead reprimanding the baristas who called it in.

We still have a long way to go to loving speakers of other languages. These companies are going a long way to show that we can accommodate with only a little effort, speakers of sign language. Let’s use the same techniques for serving others in their language.

Have you seen a business that caters to speakers of one or another language? Where was it, what was the language, and what did you think?
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8 thoughts on “Loving Sign Language in coffee shops: Could we do more?

  1. In Munich/Germany, there is a farmacy where the employees are at least bilingual. Every employee wears a little button with the flag of the country whose language he or she speaks. There is one young man working there who wears seven different buttons. Obviously, English and Turkish are the most important languages, followed by Arabic, Italian and recently, Japanese.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the idea of staff wearing buttons or flags to show the languages spoken. But I suppose it’s basically just like revamping the old fainne, which was slightly racist and very political.

      It would still be a useful identifier. I do hospital visitation every other month and I think it would be very useful if there were some notification around the bed for the language the patient speaks! Instead, I’m left stumbling through greetings in different languages until I hit one the patient understands… invariably the language needed will be one I can’t string a sentence together in, though.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Nick

    Starbucks sponsored language videos? What a wonderful surprise! I like that they are serving their local community and showing awareness and consideration. Nice blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I’ve mentioned before about the shopping centre near where I grew up – most of the big shops and chain gimmick shops are probably English-only, but the butcher, the grocer and the deli all still have bilingual (English and Italian) staff – I was in there recently and heard Italian spoken in both the deli and the grocer.

    Another one – I drove past a chemist just near Adelaide Airport the other day and saw that the sign was “Farmakeia Ellenika” (in Greek majuscule). I can only presume that this meant the staff inside could speak Greek!

    Liked by 1 person

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