Starbucks Helps Blind Patrons Navigate Stores

The partnership with Aira offers customers free access to real-time descriptions of the store.

March 17, 2021

Starbucks Coffee

SEATTLE—Starbucks has partnered with Aira Tech Corp. to bring free access to Aira, a service that gives blind and low-vision customers real-time visual descriptions of the store, Chain Store Age reports. The service is now in every U.S. Starbucks location.

The service works via the Aira app, which is free. When a customer opens the app, the service connects them with someone who can describe their surroundings via the phone’s camera and give descriptions of pastry-case items and store signs, as well as direct them to the restroom or open seating.

Earlier this year, Starbuck tested the service in seven U.S. cities, including its Washington, D.C., “signing store,” one of nine locations worldwide that have employees versed in sign language.

Customer reaction to Aira “has been nothing short of positive,” said Matthew Gilsbach, store manager at the D.C. signing location. “It’s one more tool that we can use for customers to be themselves and be independent.”

The partnership with Aira is part of the chain’s “ongoing commitment to inclusion, diversity and equity and efforts to enhance accessibility of the Starbucks experience for employees and customers, starting from the early stages of design,” Chain Store Age reports. Beginning in June, the company will put large-print and Braille menus at each Canadian and U.S. store through a joint venture with National Braille Press.

Also, Starbucks is working on employee accessibility too, such as testing clear face masks for all workers. Currently, the clear face masks are given to all hard of hearing and deaf associates in all company facilities. The company is also working on developing more accessible equipment, such as large tactile button, haptic and visual feedback features on coffee brewers and cold cups with tactile bumps and high contrast lines for measuring.

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