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China Daily Global / 2021-02 / 09 / Page006

Starbucks patrons can order with sign language

By HE WEI in Shanghai | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-02-09 00:00

Ordering a cup of Starbucks coffee has just become easier for the hearing impaired in Shanghai.

The international coffeehouse chain has opened on outlet in the city that allows hearing-impaired customers to order using sign language or the written word.

The outlet, located in downtown Huangpu district, is staffed by 12 people who can communicate using the standardized sign language used in China. Five of these employees suffer from hearing loss. A smart voice-recognition system, which Starbucks said was developed by Microsoft, has been put in place to turn speech into text, allowing baristas with hearing difficulties to engage with customers.

The outlet also provides a reusable writing pad on which customers can write their orders.

"Every employee of the store is taking sign language courses," Li Ziyi, store manager, said. "We hope to make progress fast enough to better serve our customers."

Li said the store is also looking to host regular coffee-making workshops featuring baristas with hearing impairments.

"The store opens up precious job opportunities for the physically challenged and epitomizes the city's unwavering care and support for the cohort," said Chen Dongyuan, an executive at Shanghai Disabled Persons' Federation.

The association has devised joint courses with Starbucks to train its employees with customized modules that include coffee brewing techniques and business management.

Mei Erzi, 27, a hearing-impaired barista working in the store, said he looked forward to learning more about the cashier system and English-language coffee terminology. Apart from Shanghai, Starbucks operates stores in Guangzhou, Beijing and Hangzhou where employees know sign language.

Shanghai had registered around 76,000 people as having hearing difficulties by the end of 2019, according to data from the federation.

The city has spared no efforts in attending to the community's needs. Since last year, multiple government agencies have been heavily promoting sign language translation in livestreamed shows to popularize prevention and control measures on the COVID-19 epidemic, according to a notice by the federation issued in August.

A growing number of companies have also become advocates of those with hearing loss. Four months ago, the Shanghai Disney Resort launched a free sign language interpretation service by partnering with a third-party social enterprise.

Jayme Lawman, a basketball coach at Shanghai High School who is from England, taught himself sign language. He said "hearing people" need to learn more about sign language and the deaf culture.

He is connected with the city's hearing impaired community and helps get their voices heard through promoting initiatives like the Starbucks sign language store opening. "They need to be in the mainstream media a lot more," he said. "So we are the ones who need help, not them."

An employee of a Starbucks outlet in Shanghai's Huangpu district serves a customer with sign language. HE WEI/CHINA DAILY

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