‘Silent baristas’ take the lead at Starbucks Signing Store

02 Dec 2019 / 11:41 H.

WORKING with Starbucks’ first Signing Store in the world in Bangsar Village II has changed the lives of two deaf baristas – Muhammad Aizad Ariffin and Mohd Akmal Abd Khalid for the better.

“In other places, hearing impaired employees only get to work part-time and not full-time. Mostly, they are employed as cleaners or assigned to tasks in the kitchen. However, in the Starbucks Signing Store, deaf partners work at the front-counters, communicating with customers through sign language,” signed Muhammad Aizad during our interview which was assisted and translated by an interpreter.

“People were initially sceptical of the idea of deaf employees manning the front counter, but such fears have been laid to rest with the establishment of the first Signing Store on July 20, 2016,” added the certified barista, who has been with Starbucks for eight years.

This year, the Signing Store celebrated its third anniversary and also received a “Zero” complaints store award among other Starbucks branches.

Muhammad Aizad, who is the first deaf shift manager, revealed that he aspires to be the first deaf Starbucks store manager in the world, one day. For Mohd Akmal, he hopes to see career promotion and progress with the company.

In Oct 2018, both Muhammad Aizad, 32 and Mohd Akmal, 33, were invited to the United States to support the opening of the Signing Store in Washington D.C.

A total of nine deaf baristas with three Advanced Coffee Masters work at the Signing Store in Bangsar Village II. Muhammad Aizad and Mohd Akmal are also certified Advanced Coffee Masters.

Starbucks CSR manager Rina Siew said Starbucks is focused on helping deaf employees build their career with the company.

“We put them at the front desk, provide training and a safe and positive environment to work.

“We sit together and share our vision. For example, the uniform. We put a lot of thought into it. Instead of ‘I am Deaf’, we spelled Starbucks in sign language on their (special) black apron,” Siew said, adding that the store is located in Bangsar as YMCA and other deaf communities are located nearby.

“Our goal is to bring the deaf and hearing communities together and also to welcome the deaf community and provide a place for them to get together and catch up with friends over coffee,” said Siew.

The store’s manager Hasanah Othman said she went through a 16-hour sign language course conducted by the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID) for eight to nine weeks.

“Before I worked here, I did not know sign language. When I started working in the Signing Store, I learned about deaf culture and sign language alphabets,” she said.

Starbucks recently opened its second Signing Store at Burmah Road, Penang. – by S. Tamarai Chelvi

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