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Here is why we need more signing stores

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

On June 27th, Starbucks opened its first signing store in the city of Tokyo, Japan. Located in the neighbourhood of Kunitachi City, the city has been a home to the D/deaf and hard of hearing community for generations.

For those who are curious as to what exactly a signing store is:

Imagine a restaurant where the primary means of communication with the staff is through sign language. These stores are designed, staffed, and accessorised keeping in mind the D/deaf and hard of hearing community.

This store is certainly not the first of its kind. Starbucks has opened over 5 signing stores around the world since 2016, in countries like Malaysia, China and United States.

The store’s interior promotes some way-out artworks designed by local artist Kado Hidehiko, a child of Deaf parents. Hidehiko took inspiration from D/deaf and hard of hearing people because he wanted the customers to experience and gain an insight into the deaf culture of Japan. The central theme of the work is connection, through sign language and through conversations over a steaming cup of coffee.

Signing stores bring forth an inclusive model to encourage more companies to be accessible to and accepting of all of their customers. Deaf people often don’t have access to the same novelties hearing people do on a daily basis, and providing similar experiences can result in them feeling included and embraced. They will feel a greater sense of pride for their community and its culture, and won’t feel cast out for the differences by hearing-dominated society like they have been.

These stores don’t just cater to the deaf. All customers have several options when it comes to placing their orders. They can use the keyboard feature or the speech-to-text voice recognition software on the tablet at the register. There’s also an option of simply pointing out the items on the menu they would like to the staff, or even writing them on a notepad should they not know sign language. Creating a theme centred around D/deaf people does not mean other communities will be neglected.

Digital signage enables the staff to display images and videos on screens. Through this, customers can track the progress of their orders and upon preparation, a sign language animation invites them to pick up their order. Digital signage also shows commonly signed phrases of greeting, such as a “sign of the week”, for all customers to enjoy and familiarise themselves with the world of sign language.

In order to make sure of a safe and hygienic experience amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the signing store is even taking extra precautionary measures to comply with safety standards. Steps are being taken to aid those who read lips by providing transparent and accessible surgical masks. A system of contactless voice-recognition ordering is available, as well as a numbered ticket entry system to avoid crowding inside the store.

Pakistani Deaf community has long struggled from a lack of inclusion and accessibility in public spaces. Though there are D/deaf people employed in all professions and jobs, hearing people are not aware of the struggles this community has to face when it comes to basic, routine tasks, even such as ordering at a restaurant.

Signing stores provide an innovative way for social inclusion of D/deaf people and can prove to be a game changer going forward in a world that thrives on diversity. It gives hearing people the chance to get to know more about these issues, deaf culture and traditions, and learn why it is so important to support and encourage them.

Do you want to know more about our deaf community? Learn from our blogs, and understand their culture the right way.

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