Terpii Travels: Starbucks Signing Store in Washington, D.C.

person holding a coffee mug with sign language on it

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Hi everyone! I am so glad I can travel again now that restrictions are being lifted. Like everyone else, I was extremely tired of seeing the same four lily pads!

My first stop: Washington, D.C. After all that time inside, I thought I would do some sight-seeing in the nation’s capital and brush up on U.S. history — you must stimulate your mind to stay young!

After a long day of sight-seeing and museum perusing on a lazy Sunday morning, naturally the first thing on my mind was getting a cup of coffee. I had no idea where I was, so the first thing I did was what everyone does: I pulled out my phone and Googled “Starbucks near me.”

Seemed simple enough, right? Boy, was I in for a surprise!

After entering the store, I quickly emerged from my pre-coffee haze to the realization that this was not your average Starbucks. Washington. D.C. is home to the country’s first Starbucks solely dedicated to American Sign Language (ASL). It opened in 2018 and is quite the sight to behold, especially since my range of vision is 180 degrees!

I was so captivated that I was almost stepped on, but the person apologized, and I took the opportunity to ask them about the history of this location.

The man explained that there is a very good reason why Starbucks chose to dedicate this location to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing.

The coffee shop is right around the corner from Gallaudet University, the world’s only university uniquely designed to educate Deaf and hard-of-hearing students, making this neighborhood quite a special place to live, learn, and work for Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

Showcasing Deaf Artists

The Starbucks Signing Store features art from several deaf artists, including a modern and eye-catching mural and coffee created by Yiqiao Wang. Wang happens to be an adjunct professor at the aforementioned Gallaudet University.

The mural was so mesmerizing I decided to … you guessed it, Google it! I found out that Wang explained  the piece an interview with Starbucks for the opening of the store by saying this:

“In the center of the piece, you can see two very strong hands, arms raised up, rising from the bottom of the artwork. Deaf people can see that. It means community in ASL, and bringing various backgrounds, languages and people all together.”

I loved that message of inclusiveness, especially since 2020 was a trying year, but also an awakening when it comes to the general public learning about the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

an American Sign Language mural with a frog in the forefront

There is a stunning mural at the Washington, D.C. Starbucks Signing Store. It was created by Yiqiao Wang, an adjunct professor at Gallaudet University. Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Designed for Sign Language Communication

I left the store with my Venti Matcha Crème Frappuccino (I like green things) and struck up a conversation with a person walking their dog.

The dog was barking like crazy at me, but when he stopped his owner told me the store was created to be an optimal space for deaf communication.

I asked the woman walking her shih tzu how so. It turns out it is a collaboration between the ASL Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University and architect Hansel Bauman titled the DeafSpace Project.

Design elements such as space, proximity, sensory reach, mobility, light, color, low-glare surfaces, and acoustics were taken into consideration to ensure the store could operate as efficiently as possible.

The ordering experience was seamless, even for a hearing customer who does not know ASL. I was able to order with the assistance of digital notepads, and a console with two-way keyboards for back-and-forth typed conversations.

An Opportunity to Learn & Embrace Deaf Culture

My experience at the ASL Signing Store was fantastic. The staff were friendly, patient, and professional. It was clear they had a real sense of pride about the work they were doing, as well as the community they were serving.

The store also offers their hearing customers the opportunity to learn through its signature “sign of the week” on the chalkboard above the register. It also provides the chance to see how the store’s Deaf employees interact with each other and their customers, both hearing and deaf alike.

If you are ever in the D.C. area and looking for a good cup of coffee or refreshing beverage, I strongly recommend heading down to the intersection of 6th and H streets.

When you get there, look for the familiar Starbucks sign, as well as an ASL fingerspelling of the company name. You will experience a truly special and unique coffee shop and cultural hub.

That sums up my first trip in months! Until next time, friends! Oh, I almost forgot: Tell me in the comments where you are planning to go now that we can travel again!

If you need an interpreter or documents translated, don’t forget to talk to my friends at iTi!

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