Starbucks is becoming more accessible for guests with visual and hearing impairments

Exterior of Starbucks' first sign language store in Shanghai, China
Starbucks’ first sign language store in Shanghai, China
Photo: Barcroft Media (Getty Images)

Starbucks is taking major steps to solidify its welcoming “Third Place” reputation. This past Monday, Nation’s Restaurant News reports, the chain announced plans to make its stores more welcoming to all kinds of guests, including those with visual and hearing impairments.


First, Starbucks announced plans to introduce large-print and braille menus to all of its restaurants across North America in partnership with National Braille Press. The coffee giant also announced a new service that connects blind and low-vision customers to “live trained visual interpreters who can help them make their purchases.” The service is available through an app called Aira, and its interpreters actually describe the layout of restaurants. The interpreters can also read the menu aloud and highlight specific details of what’s directly in front of the customer. (Think Starbucks grab-and-go items like those excellent Justin’s organic peanut butter cups.)

According to a release from Aira, Starbucks customers can use the Aira service for free for up to 30 minutes per visit. The release explains that the service can also help customers navigate changes made in response to the coronavirus pandemic by “reducing the need for them to touch things and helping them to maintain social distance.”

Finally, Starbucks has opened nine “Signing Stores” throughout the United States. Employees at these designated stores are all proficient in American Sign Language, making the stores more accessible for customers with hearing loss. If you’re curious about the rollout timeline, nationwide Aira access begins this week, while the Braille and large print menus will roll out early this summer.

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.



Huh. I was going to comment that the signed letters under the sign in the photo don’t match what I learned (granted, it was ages ago) but then I noticed it was a store in China. Which makes me even more confused, actually, because STARBUCKS is in English but I assume the letters are specific to ... signed English in China? A transliteration? Hmmm.