- Starbucks is now offering aprons spelling out the company's name in American Sign Language (ASL) to employees who identify as deaf. The company hired a deaf-owned business to embroider the aprons and so far has distributed 50, it said in a press release.
- The move came at the recommendation of a deaf barista, Katie Giles, who reported communication issues with customers. Now, the apron serves as both a visual cue for customers and a point of deaf cultural pride, the company said.
- “People are curious and tend to look at me with more of a friendly face when they enter my store and see me in the apron,” Giles said. “I’ve even learned that some of my customers know a bit of sign language, which they had not used because they didn’t know I was Deaf. My relationship with customers has totally changed.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and workers with disabilities. This includes access to facilities, workplace communications, benefits and more.
Employers also must ensure that their recruiting and hiring processes are accessible — an area often overlooked. A 2015 survey found that most organizations' career websites don't adequately accommodate candidates with hearing impairments.
But offering more than the federally mandated minimum can go a long way toward employee engagement (not to mention the creation of a more-diverse workforce). Recognizing and appreciating differences openly and honestly — with employees' consent, as in Starbucks' case — can be an effective way of engaging workers with disabilities and their coworkers and clients.