Starbucks is now offering more options to make their stores and ordering experience accessible to all individuals. Starting today, customers will have access to Aira, a third party app that connects people who are blind or have low vision with agents who can help them access information, including the menu. This summer, locations across the U.S. and Canada will also offer menus printed in large-format and in braille.
These changes are coming as Starbucks is working to be more inclusive of all its customers.
“At Starbucks, it has long been a part of our mission to create a culture of warmth and belonging," said Katie Young, senior vice president of growth and development at Starbucks in an email to TODAY Food. "We want all of our customers to feel welcome when they enter our stores, in all of the communities we serve. Integrating accessibility throughout our business gives us the opportunity to offer the Starbucks experience to even more customers. We know that the more we design for inclusion, the better our business will be.”
In its Starbucks Stories, the company describes the experience of Susan, a woman who lost her vision as a teenager due to 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," read the story.
"'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 said."
“We first learned about Aira’s service from a blind individual while gathering feedback from our customers and seeking to better identify and understand their needs," said Sevana Massih, inclusion and diversity program manager of accessibility in an email to TODAY Food. "Ensuring we collaborate with the disability community, early in the design stage, and seeking their feedback often is making us a better company.”
In October of 2018, Starbucks opened its first US Starbucks signing store in Washington DC, where sign language and high tech options assist guests with communication. The store provides employment opportunities for Deaf and hard of hearing partners and led by partners fluent in American Sign Language.
"It would be awesome if all businesses were as progressive as Starbucks," wrote customer Dallin Smuin on TikTok after a great experience in the coffee chain's drive-thru lane where he was able to communicate his order through sign language via the assistance of an employee and a high tech video display that allowed them to interact.
During the pandemic, Americans have been relying on the drive-thru more than ever as a way to pick up everything from coffee drinks to fast food from the safety of their vehicles. Sit-down restaurants have even gotten in on the drive-thru game to keep customers coming back as people dine out less due to COVID-19.
"...The pandemic has accelerated the industry’s move to create new access points, many using technology, that provide customers more choices to fulfill their desire for restaurant meal solutions,” Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research, National Restaurant Association in an email to TODAY Food.