If you ever visit one particular Starbucks store in Bangsar Village 2, you may be in for a different experience. Where you would usually hear the greetings and sounds of baristas calling out beverage orders, they’re replaced by sign language here.

This is the world’s first Starbucks Signing Store, where the iconic coffee company seeks to empower the deaf and the hard of hearing in employment.

Celebrating the store’s third year anniversary, Rina Siew, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei, spilled the beans on how it all started.

A Sign Of The Times

Rina revealed that Starbucks has been employing deaf people even before the concept of a Signing Store was even considered.

However, as the company did not have much experience working with the deaf or hard of hearing, they were often given simple and menial tasks to start with.

But when two deaf Starbucks employees —Aizad and Lin, expressed their dreams of becoming managers one day, Starbucks Malaysia decided that it was time to do something to help them with their careers.

“It was then that we realised that we needed to provide a more inclusive platform where they could actually thrive, and provide empowerment to our deaf and hard of hearing partners,” Rina explained.

“So together, in collaboration with The Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID), we successfully piloted a store model that became a first-of-its-kind for Starbucks globally.”

Launched on 20 July 2016, Bangsar Village 2 was selected as the inaugural site for this world’s first Starbucks store due to its proximity to nearby deaf communities, public transportation and a community shopping mall.

“This provides conducive operation hours and a safe environment for our deaf and hard of hearing partners to work in,” Rina said.

Elsewhere, Starbucks US and China have already followed Malaysia’s example, opening Signing Stores in Washington D.C, as well as in Guang Zhou, China.

Becoming A Coffee Master

It’s interesting to note that while the Signing Store caters to ‘deaf and hard of hearing partners’, as they are called, there are ‘hearing partners’ who work alongside them.

“The hearing [abled] can work in this store too, but they would need to be professionally certified in Malaysian Sign Language first in order to work here to communicate with the deaf partners,” Rina said.

In fact, Rina specified that they need to go through a Malaysian Sign Language course from SID in order to work at the Signing Store.

Currently, the store employs eight deaf and hard of hearing baristas, a deaf shift supervisor, a hearing shift supervisor and a hearing store manager.

“For on-job training, a new deaf barista will be mentored by the hearing store manager, or all the deaf partners will buddy up and guide the new deaf partner on SOPs as well as following the training plan,” Rina said.

Aizad, the store’s shift supervisor, who is also a deaf partner, said that the deaf and hard of hearing partners work better and avoid accidents by focusing on one task at a time.

Distinguishable by the black aprons they wear, all of the store’s staff are certified by Starbucks’s Coffee Master program.

Recently, three deaf partners have been certified as Advanced Coffee Masters, earning them their black aprons which features a special embroidery spelling out ‘Starbucks’ in Malaysian Sign Language.

Aizad told us that it took them two months to obtain the Advanced Coffee Masters certification for the Pour Over brewing method.