As part of its ongoing efforts to promote inclusion, Starbucks has opened its first Signing Store in Japan which offers employment opportunities to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. According to the CEO of Starbucks Japan, the company has practised inclusive hiring since 1996 when it first entered the Japanese market, and the new Signing Store is its newest initiative to create physical spaces of belonging for its employees (who they call “partners”) and customers. The store also aims to share and showcase the culture and talent of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Japan, allowing customers to learn about the diversity of communication.
The store is located in Tokyo’s Kunitachi City, an area that has a long history of being a part of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Japan. 208 square meters in size, the interior space designed with a focus on accessibility and human engagement. While maintaining easily recognizable brand colours and aesthetics, the space features original artwork by Hidehiko Kado, a child of deaf adults (CODA) who draws inspiration from sign language to create inclusive art that strives to connect people around Japan with the country’s deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
When customers enter, they can place an order using a tablet with a speech-to-text voice recognition system, writing on a notepad, or manually pointing to items on the menu. When their order is ready, a sign-language animation is shown on a digital monitor, signalling customers to pick up their order according to the number printed on their receipt. Throughout the day, the monitor also displays common phrases in sign language. During the COVID-19 period, the store has also adapted many safety measures, such as giving clear masks to partners to help people that read lips.
In 2016, Starbucks opened its first Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Since then, the company has opened Signing Stores in cities including Washington D.C., Guangzhou, Penang, and the store in Kunitachi City is its newest addition. The initiative serves as an encouraging reminder for urban spaces around the world to foster diversity and inclusion in their design.