How Starbucks Is Helping Deaf Customers Order

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

One might not expect a video of a woman ordering coffee in a Starbucks drive through to become an Internet sensation, but there was something special about Rebecca King’s experience with the coffee giant this week. A video she posted to Facebook Tuesday shows how a new two-way video system allowed the deaf Starbucks customer to order using sign language. King, who lives in St. Augustine, Florida, told First Coast News that she was surprised on Monday when she went to order her coffee, and a Starbucks employee began signing with her through a screen on the outdoor “to go” menu. The employee was Katie Wyble, 22, a University of North Florida undergrad who has been studying American Sign Language since grade school. King was so happy with the exchange that she returned the next day to do it again and record it. She posted the video to Facebook with the message, “Starbucks! This is what I'm talking about!” If the video’s nearly six million views are any indication, King certainly isn’t alone in her enthusiasm.

In a Facebook post about the video, Wyble explains that the two-way screen at the drive through is “kind of like Starbucks FaceTime.” The screen — and Wyble’s fluency in ASL — allowed King to order her two coffees with ease. King told First Coast News, “It is a big deal to (the) deaf community that Starbucks has one now. Nowhere else has that!”

In a press release, Starbucks explains that they aim to create stores that “are locally relevant and give customers a deeper connection to their communities.” St. Augustine is the home of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and as such has a considerable deaf, hard of hearing, and blind population. Erin Berkner, the St. Augustine Starbucks assistant store manager, says that experiences like Rebecca King’s aren’t uncommon at their location, remarking,

Our store just opened in August and since then we’ve been able to serve customers who are Deaf in a personal way because four of our partners know ASL and because our drive-thru system makes ordering easy. People who are Deaf feel comfortable here and that’s our goal for all of our customers.

Wyble and King both hope that the popularity of the video will bring some much needed attention to the deaf community. Nearly a million people in the U.S. are functionally deaf, and service like that at this Florida Starbucks could make a real difference in their daily lives. Wyble told Action News Jax, “I think more people need to know about what we’re doing because it moves customer service to a whole new level. I hope it helps make more people aware of what they can to do serve others in their communities.” In a Facebook post, King encourages viewers to share the video, saying, “We can change the world!”

Images: Rebecca King/Facebook (2)