Starbucks opens first sign language store in US

US coffee giant Starbucks opened its first "signing store" in the United States in northeast Washington near the campus of Gallaudet, the world's only university with an entire curriculum designed to accommodate the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Starbucks opens first sign language store in US

Rebecca Witzofsky, a 20-year-old deaf student at Gallaudet University in Washington, and her hearing friend Nikolas Carapellatti wanted to get a coffee. 

But on Tuesday, Witzofsky finally didn't have to struggle to make her order understood.

At the store, all staff -- most of them deaf or hard-of-hearing themselves -- are required to communicate with customers using sign language. 

The cafe is modeled after a store that opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016.

At first glance, it doesn't look any different from a regular Starbucks, seen on seemingly every other street corner in the US capital.

Employees wearing black shirts and green aprons emblazoned with the company logo scurry behind the counter to serve hot drinks, cold drinks and pastries to an eager clientele.

But despite the crowd -- perhaps unusually big for mid-morning on a Tuesday -- the cafe enjoyed a surprising calm, probably because most conversations were held in silence.

For Witzofsky, it was a revelation.

"It gives deaf people space off-campus, a place to come to and socialize, eat food with other deaf people and meet other deaf people as well, and the deaf employees," she told AFP.

"When I go to a normal Starbucks, I either talk and hope they can hear me and understand, or I show them my order on my phone," she explained.

"Here, your name appears on a screen, which I really, really like, because when they call my order I don't have to try to hear it -- it's right on the screen."