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What a difference video technology and proper training can make

Video by Megan Long 

If you are worn out from election stress and the regular stress of the world we are all facing these days, here’s a feel good story for you. A TikTok of a deaf man ordering his coffee from the drive-thru because an employee knew sign language went viral for its message of inclusivity. 

Ordering Struggles As A Deaf Person

With more awareness being brought to the disabled community because of social media, able bodied people are learning how inaccessible their world can be for the deaf community. It is often hard for a deaf person to find people that speak sign language in a public setting. An easy everyday task to an able bodied person such as ordering a cup of coffee, can pose difficulty to someone who is deaf if the people serving are not properly trained in inclusivity and accessibility. 

Ellen and Ryan from the famous YouTube channel, Sign Duo, are known for showing the world how “Deaf and Hearing relationships work.” Ryan is completely deaf and Ellen is “hearing,” meaning she can hear as an able bodied person can. They have a famous series on their YouTube channel called “Deaf Man vs Drive Thru” that shows whether or not employees at certain drive thrus can accommodate him.

One of the videos shows how hard it was for Ryan to easily make an order and go about his day.


In the video, they show the manager at the drive thru thought Ryan was faking his deafness. They asked him to park and eventually had an employee come out to take their order with a pen and paper. Ryan explained to the camera that these types of experiences are what make him not want to go out in public, but he wanted to show viewers how degrading an experience can be without proper employee training in accessibility and communication. 

Their description of the video says, “If you face discrimination because of who you are, stay strong. Hopefully we can highlight how businesses should communicate with their customers, and encourage businesses to become more inclusive.”

Heartwarming TikTok

Luckily not all fast food and cafe chains are like this! The story we want to highlight with you today is a viral TikTok of a deaf person who went through the Starbucks drive-through and the video screen allowed him to order from an employee who could sign. 


Deaf order at a drive through #fyp #deaf #mylife #foryourpage #foryou #drivethrough #starbuck #asl

♬ The Office – The Hyphenate


Once the customer said he was deaf, the employee turned on her video and they were able to communicate.  It was a fast and easy process like it should be. The deaf customer said he was a “forever customer” after that positive experience. 

This video has over 4 million likes and a lot of positive feedback towards that store and the specific employee who helped the customer order.

One comment on Twitter says, “love or hate starbucks the drive thru technology to talk to deaf people is amazing. Like it’s just a camera but so many drive thrus turn deaf people away completely. I’m just amazed.” 

Just like we saw in Ryan and Ellen’s video, some drive-thru places just haven’t properly trained their employees on how to deal with accessibility issues when it comes to their deaf customers. 

Starbucks has been working on their inclusivity and accessibility for quite some time. This Tweet from 2018 shows their openness to suggestions on how to make their chain better and more accessible for everyone. 

Starbucks also has multiple locations where they hire all deaf workers. The Washington D.C location opened in 2018. It is located down the street from Gallaudet University, a bilingual (English and ASL) school for Deaf and hard of hearing students. The all deaf location was inspired by a similar store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that opened in 2016.  

Adam Novasam, a partner in Starbuck’s corporate office, said they chose Washington, D.C. as their first signing location “because of its place as both an international hub and national deaf hub.” Of the original 25 staff members in 2018, 19 were deaf and the remaining were hearing and proficient in ASL or “coda,” meaning they were children of deaf parents whose first language was ASL. When the store first opened, they made instructional videos on how to sign some of the basic Starbucks terms, such as Pumpkin Spiced Latte, coffee, tall, grande and venti.

Like Starbucks says on their website, this store strengthens the deaf community and gives them a space to feel comfortable. 

Let us know how this made you feel! We hope that someday every drive-thru will be able to assist deaf people the way this Starbucks did.