Starbucks Is Offering New Accessible Services, Like Braille Menus, to Customers

The coffee giant hopes to be more inclusive.

March 16, 2021

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Starbucks is doing its part to ensure that its stores are as accessible and inclusive as possible. On Monday, March 15, the coffee mecca announced that it had joined forces with Aira, a tech company that connects people who are blind and low-vision to highly trained, remotely-located visual interpreters in an effort to provide instant access to visual information.

As of Monday, Aira is available in all U.S. Starbucks stores. The move makes it easier for blind or visually impaired people to visit the coffee chain and place their orders.

Starbucks first tested Aira in seven U.S. cities early this year, including at its Signing Store in Washington, D.C., one of nine Signing Stores globally that provide a space for the Deaf and hard of hearing community to connect through sign language and celebrate Deaf culture. Employees who work at these stores are all proficient in sign language.

According to a new Starbucks Stories entry posted Monday, the company was inspired to increase its accessibility after learning about a customer named Susan Mazrui, 58, who went blind in her teens because of multiple sclerosis.

Earlier this month, Susan walked into a Seattle Starbucks and, using Aira, was able to ask a remote agent to describe the layout of the store so she could navigate to the order line and point-of-sale, read the menu to her and describe options in the pastry and ready-to-eat and drink cases and on the counters.

“It helps me scan the environment and learn what’s there and do it quickly,” she said.

Instead of having to try to remember what’s on the menu, and possibly miss new seasonal options, through Aira, “I can be like every other customer with the same number of choices,” she added.

Matthew Gilsbach, the manager of the D.C. Signing Store, says the customer reaction to Aira “has been nothing short of positive.”

He continued: “It’s one more tool that we can use for customers to be themselves and be independent. And customers and partners both feel that there are no more barriers between them. They can get to know each other, build relationships and have those connections: one human to another human.”

In addition to Aira, Starbucks will provide new large print and Braille menus, developed in partnership with National Braille Press, in all U.S. and Canada stores, starting this summer.

What’s more? Last year the Starbucks Accessibility Office conducted research and consulted with inclusive design experts, Starbucks employees, the disability community and organizations like the World Institute on Disability, with a goal of designing with accessibility as the standard.

The team has already begun collaborating on key projects to improve physical and digital experiences for employees and customers, starting with creating new store design standards, and updating the Starbucks app to enhance accessibility. Recently, the team led testing of clear face masks for employees, which are now provided to all Deaf and hard of hearing partners in Starbucks U.S. retail, non-retail, distribution centers and roasting plants.

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