Starbucks Malaysia opened a new store last week (July 20) - business as usual, except that the store employs 10 deaf employees (Starbucks refers to staff as 'partners'), including a shift manager.

This new diversity initiative by the coffee company is aimed at raising awareness of people with disabilities in the workplace. Located in Bangsar Village II, the store is the first-of-a-kind for Starbucks globally.

Starbucks has partnered with The Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID) to facilitate the hiring, training and coaching of deaf partners as they navigate the retail store environment and to teach sign language to hearing partners at the store.

The company is also supporting a number of hearing partners at its local support centre to learn Malaysian sign language so they can communicate with and train store partners and recruit new Deaf partners on an ongoing basis.

Starbucks' deaf partners will receive the same operational training as its hearing partners, which includes barista basics, how to handle food, etc.

Deaf shift manager, Aizad conducting coffee tasting Deaf shift manager, Aizad conducting coffee tasting

Sydney Quays, MD of Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei, said the company is proud to support people with disabilities to create a culture of empowerment and to bring new perspectives to the workplace.

He commented: "We have a rich history of creating opportunities for underrepresented groups and our aim is to raise public awareness of the value people with disabilities bring to the workplace and to enrich the lives of many more deaf partners."

Starbucks aims to increase employment of deaf people across Malaysia over time.

Alvin YM Wong, chairman of SID Selangor and Federal Territory, Malaysia, added: "Through Starbucks, these deaf partners are trained and empowered to move forward in their careers which will give them a sense of pride and accomplishment in the long run."

Children from National Society for the Deaf and members of the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf Children from National Society for the Deaf and members of SID

Will the store experience change for customers?

Inside this store, when customers go to order, they will notice the usual greeting and sound of baristas calling out beverage orders is replaced by sign language.

Customers place orders using a simple menu card which they mark before passing it to the barista and deaf partners use handwritten notes to communicate with customers. Upon placing the order, each customer is given a number on the receipt, which is displayed on a screen once it is ready.

Muhammad Aizad Bin Ariffin (Aizad) from Starbucks Bangsar Village II joined Starbucks three years ago, with a goal to become Starbucks Malaysia’s first deaf store manager - and was recently promoted to shift manager.

He explained: "It’s an incredible feeling to share my journey and help develop other deaf partners. My next goal is to deepen my coffee expertise by becoming Starbucks Malaysia’s first deaf coffee master."

Group photo of deaf partners with store manager Evonne (middle) Group photo of deaf partners with store manager Evonne (middle)

Diversity initiatives at Starbucks Malaysia

With a focus on employing under-represented groups in the workplace, Starbucks Malaysia launched the VIP Program last year to attract mature partners, above 55 years of age.

As part of the programme, Starbucks provides flexible work hours and other benefits for seniors. There are currently more than 10 VIP partners working in Starbucks Malaysia stores, the oldest being 73 years old.

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All images: Provided [lead image: Aizad with Tan Sri Dato Seri Vincent Tan]