By Marissa Dinar

20th of July 2017 – I entered the Bangsar Village II Starbucks Signing Store with one complimentary free drink voucher, as well as some complete tact. Telling the barista, “One Tall Caramel Macchiato please!” I said, suavely so I assumed, before being hurriedly interrupted.

He pointed at the menu card and gestured to me, “Which one?”. Oh My God – I came to the press event knowing this store was manned by Deaf Partners and I ordered my drink normally. How much lamer could I get.

Why was I there? Because the World’s FIRST Starbucks Signing Store was turning the ripe ol’ age of 1. For those of you who don’t know, it’s called a Signing Store because you’ve got to use sign language in order to communicate with the baristas there! Manned by individuals who are without the sense of hearing a.k.a Deaf Partners – they are the ones who will make your coffee the way you like it, with an additional dollop of genuine smiles and warm service.

Lined up for the media as well as other VIPs were a coffee tasting session, a story telling session by a few of the Deaf Partners, a graduation programme for to become officiated as a Coffee Master – and of course, a cake cutting session.

But that’s not the focus of this article, instead of writing a normal presser – I felt like I ought to do more justice to the initiative itself. Talking to the Managing Director of Starbucks Malaysia, as well as the newly appointed CEO of Berjaya Food, Mr Sydney Lawrence Quay, he mentioned that ultimately that the journey to making the store a success, “could not feel any better”. “Seeing the same Deaf Partners who were with the company, grow with the company” is the best return they could have.

And that’s exactly what I witnessed. There was not an ounce of superficiality in the way the store was handled or managed – nor an ounce of pretentiousness was detected from the senior officers running this enterprise. Rather than this long term movement being one that was just for appearances – the Starbucks Signing Store is one branch that offers empowerment to those without hearing, a proper career pathway that allows them to become better at a skill they had to newly learn beforehand. The principle behind this was to not offer sympathy, or a pitying demeanour to the Deaf Partners, but instead – an equal playing field that they can strive to be better at.

This store is unique entirely because of the upward opportunities they provide. For example, the current store manager, Azzad – is a young teenage lad, whose goal is to be the WORLD’S first Starbucks Store Manager. Apt as well, seeing that a few folks of the managing team from Starbucks Seattle (Yes, USA) came down to learn more about how to set a signing store up. Malaysia Represent!  To say that the Deaf Partners working there were incredibly grateful to have working opportunities is an understatement – their smiles were infectious and more importantly, genuine.

I’ve never seen such togetherness within a team that frankly speaking, cannot communicate via normal speech. To have able people learn sign language to facilitate and assist those who signed entirely of their own will – is heartwarming to say the least. That, is exactly the baby steps that is needed in order to increase inclusion of disabled individuals. It is of Mr.Sydney’s hope, that the corporate world does more to include individuals who at first glance, are not able to function as well as able bodied people can. But that first step comes from societal acceptance – as well as a rectification in perception. “Hey, having a disability is NOT the end of the world.”

Congratulations Starbucks, we can’t wait to see the company reach further to cater to even the more unique in our society. Salut!

Look below for their first year anniversary video!