Starbucks and the Evolution Screen

starbucksevolutionWhile much of America is obsessing over the meaning (or lack thereof) of Starbucks’ red cup, some of us are focused on Starbucks for a more unifying reason — the great communication leap forward.

Rebecca King, a Deaf Starbucks patron, pulled up to her local St. Augustine, Florida Starbucks’ drive-thru window expecting the usual struggles communicating through a kiosk. She was shocked–and ecstatic–when a signing employee appeared on an Evolution Screen.

This is the first known Starbucks to install an Evolution Screen, in which an interpreter communicates with the driver on the screen if they haven’t responded within a certain amount of time.

Be one of the 6 million plus people to view Ms. King easily ordering her Frappuccino in sign language.

The St. Augustine Starbucks employs a handful of signers as the town hosts a large Deaf and signing community, as well as the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.  ASL is offered at many of the local high schools and colleges.

Not all Starbucks are as accommodating as St. Augustine’s. In 2013, two New York City Starbucks made Deaf News Today and The New York Times by refusing to serve Deaf customers, making fun of the Deaf accent, and even calling the police to remove Deaf patrons. The Deaf patrons sued Starbucks. Starbucks responded quickly in print and video reiterating that all customers, including Deaf customers, should feel welcome and enjoy the Starbucks Experience.

Indeed, what happened in New York City seems to be an anomaly. Starbucks has a history of hiring Deaf employees in many of their stores, from South Korea to Santa Monica, CA. Starbucks is an active participant in RIT’s Coop Program, which offers internships to Deaf college students and hires many of them. According to this video, there are 5 Deaf employees at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, WA and Starbucks actively meets all of their communication needs.

Of course, an Evolution Screen isn’t practical for all fast food restaurants, nor do all restaurants have easy access to signing employees. To help facilitate communication, Starbucks also stocks picture cards so any customer can point to the drink of their choice and size without a struggle.

We hope other restaurants and coffee shops will follow suit and install drive-thru touch screens, making it easier for everyone to place accurate orders.

Great job, Starbucks. I raise my red cup to you.