In the fall of 2018, Starbucks opened its first signing store in the U.S near Gallaudet University. Not only does this location provide employment opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people, all its employees are fluent in American Sign Language. Additionally, the cafe aims to educate and enlighten society about Deaf and hard of hearing people. Inspiration for this location was drawn from Starbucks’ first signing store which opened in Malaysia in 2016.
If you visit this location, you’ll see employees communicating in ASL and utilizing high-tech options like digital notepads. There’s even a “sign of the week” for customers who may not know ASL but are curious to learn. Aprons, umbrellas, and other elements of the shop feature words in ASL.
This Neapolitan-style pizzeria is nearly twice the size of its original location in San Francisco. This second location opened in September 2020, and employs deaf and hard of hearing workers. Like its Starbucks neighbor, Mozzeria is near Gallaudet University. In fact, Mozzeria’s founders, Melody and Russ Stein, met there.
At Mozzeria’s, diners communicate with servers using ASL symbols that correlate to menu items. According to Eater Washington DC, the design studio “employed ‘DeafSpace’ principles with strategic window placement, lighting, and seating to maximize the visual experience for customers and employees.”
Ten years before Starbucks opened up its sign language cafe in Malaysia, a pair of siblings had the same idea. Agnes and Mario Peter were driven by their passion for the Deaf community. As their website states, “The mission was founded to provide an avenue for the Deaf to be employed in order to enhance their livelihood. The mission has a vision to also be a service industry with Deaf impact, raising awareness about the Deaf community, its culture and language – Malaysian Sign Language (BIM).”
The website also says the development of #deaftalent in their employees is encouraged. The company invests in the staff and trains them to ensure they have a variety of skills including business co-management training.
At this cafe, not only can you indulge in some delicious food, you can engage with the staff in BIM. You can even take your learning a step further by participating in sign language classes conducted at the cafe by qualified Deaf instructors. Crafts made by Deaf people are also available for purchase. The company has clearly grown since starting in the Peters’ home 14 years ago.
Read more: 5 ways restaurants can be more deaf friendly
When Shada and Imran Nakueira acquired a restaurant space in Jinja, Uganda, they were unsure what to do with it. They had always wanted to work with people with disabilities. Inspiration struck when Shadia purchased lemons from a deaf market vendor. She noticed that many people avoided him. She wondered if there was a way to highlight deaf people’s skills and break down barriers.
This was the birth of Sikia Cafe, whose name derives from Swahili to mean “hear” or “listen.”
“Listening happens in so many ways beyond sound: body language, emotion, watching,” Shadia Nakueira told The Christian Science Monitor.
“Listening happens in so many ways beyond sound: body language, emotion, watching.”
The cafe, staffed by deaf waiters, is known for its famous colorful ice-cream flavors. To make an order, customers can reference an infographic on the menu which shows how to sign words for menu items and phrases. Orders can also be written down.
Discrimination is common in Uganda when it comes to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The cafe hopes to combat that stigma and increase awareness. In the process, they’re also helping their employees. One has credited the cafe with teaching him how to write in addition to his newfound job skills.
Tradeblock Cafe is operated by students of the Victoria College for the Deaf. I had the honor of visiting. I walked in to an almost immediate homey feeling and felt instantly comfortable. There was an iPad with videos of how to sign different orders in Auslan (Australian sign language), so customers can point or try to sign orders.
While there, I actually met the woman who started the cafe nine years ago as a means of helping to break down communication barriers and prepare students for the hearing world.
She explained to me that there are two teachers on shift most times, students certain days of the week, and adults other days of the week. Some former students have trouble acclimating to life outside in the hearing world, so Tradeblock allows some to come back hoping they’ll regain their confidence to work in a hearing world.
The owner went on to tell me about the carefully selected use of the iPad to make orders. While many will just point at the menu to order, this allows hearing people the opportunity to connect with the deaf on a different level. Since people who are deaf always have to find ways to communicate in the hearing world, the goal is to show the other side of it.
While gallivanting around Taipei, I also had the pleasure of visiting Bravo Cafe. It is small, quaint, and full of character – literally and metaphorically, as there were cartoonish characters everywhere! When ordering, customers simply point at the menu item. Employees ring up the total and point to it. After you pay, your order is brought out.
As I sat there waiting for my milk tea and green tea waffle, I admired the pictures on the wall, which showed how to sign different words in Taiwanese Sign Language (TSL). There were words you might use to describe your food or drinks, like “yummy,” “hot,” “cold,” or “sweet.” When the staff brought out my food, they could see me trying to mimic the TSL signs. They smiled warmly and worked patiently to show me each of the identified words on the wall.