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First Starbucks outlet in the world to hire deaf baristas is in Bangsar

Written by
Wai Yeng Kong

Many of us rest on the assumption that the disabled community in KL are consigned to monotonous, isolated lives. But that’s far from the truth. Most of them – some with intellectual potential far beyond their education years – are living quality lives as blind masseurs (the Malaysian Association for the Blind provides woodwork and telephony courses for the visually impaired), kitchen helpers and restaurant managers.

Starbucks Malaysia recently launched a new outlet at Bangsar Village II, dedicated to employing hearing-impaired baristas. Working closely with NGO Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID) to facilitate the hiring, training and coaching of deaf employees, this first-of-a-kind outlet for Starbucks globally has employed ten deaf ‘partners’, who work alongside three hearing staff.

More info about their initiative
Photo: Kong Wai Yeng

A cool wall that spells out ‘Starbucks’ in manual hand signs graces the entrance, while the hectic counter atmosphere has been replaced with just the sound of whirring coffee machines. The ordering process is pretty straightforward: 1) Mark what you want on the menu card 2) Pass it to the cashier, and he/she’ll give you an order number 3) Wait for your number to pop up on the designated screen 4) Get your order

Menu card
Photo: Kong Wai Yeng

If you’re one of those obnoxious people who place complicated orders (‘Decaf soy latte with an extra shot, half inch foam, and cream, at 120 degrees’ aka ‘I am a jerk’), we suggest you write it down. Baristas can also communicate with non-signing customers via handwritten notes or easily understood signs. A really kind barista, Yap Yee Lin, taught us these simple signs to order the different drink sizes:

From L-R: 'T' for Tall, 'G' for Grande, 'V' for Venti
Photo: Kong Wai Yeng


Starbucks isn’t the only place in Malaysia to hire staff with disability. KFC first started its community restaurant, which hired staff with speech and hearing impairment, in 1986 at Jalan Imbi. The restaurant has relocated to Jalan Ipoh, and then Sentul Raya. Currently, there are three more of such outlets in the country: Tanjung Aru (Sabah), Saujana (Sarawak) and Johor. Also, Dining in the Dark KL – a sensory experience where you dine in complete darkness – is manned by a team of visually impaired servers.

Hiring the disabled shouldn’t be seen as charity or an emotional obligation, and that means allowing people to live their lives and make their own contributions through their skills and talent. In fact, many disabled workers are so grateful to have a job they tend to work harder, fostering deep loyalty to a company. They should be treated as a part of the society, not apart.

 For more info, visit Starbucks Malaysia.

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