Starbucks barista uses drive-thru to communicate with deaf patron — see the viral video

Kerry Breen
·2 min read

A viral video on TikTok is bringing new attention to the barriers the hard-of-hearing and deaf communities face at the drive-thru.

The clip, which was shared on Nov. 8 and has since amassed over 19 million views, shows Starbucks employee Brianna Roth assisting customer Dallin Smuin in the coffee chain's drive-thru lane.

The video starts with Smuin pulling up to a virtual display board. Roth begins to take his order via intercom before Smuin explains that he "can't really understand" her.

"Oh, I'm sorry, hold on one second," Roth can be heard saying. Just seconds later, a section of the display board is turned into a video display, allowing Smuin and Roth to see each other and communicate through American Sign Language (ASL).

In the video's caption, Smuin wrote that he got "excited" when he realized Roth was able to communicate with him and said that he was "a forever customer."

In the comments section, Roth explained that she studied ASL at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York. According to Starbucks, the technology that she was able to use to communicate with Smuin is in place at about 4,000 locations across the country.

While the company says there are obvious benefits to having the video technology, it's also a complicated system to operate and not all stores have the capability to use it. However, they do encourage employees and individual stores to do everything they can to be as accessible to as many people as possible.

"We really encourage our partners to make every moment right," said spokesperson Jessica Conradson — Starbucks uses the term 'partners' to refer to employees. "And this was one of those really beautiful moments where we had a partner who knew sign language and was able to communicate in a special way with the video and really bring that Starbucks experience to life."

Related: It's hard to read lips or interpret signs when someone is wearing a mask — or when someone has a bad connection on Zoom.

Conradson said that in addition to the video system, Starbucks also has "signing stores" which specifically cater to customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. The store also provides specific aprons for employees who are proficient in ASL to indicate that they can help customers who are deaf or hard of hearing communicate. Employees interested in learning ASL are also encouraged to do so.

"We've always been committed to creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity," said Conradson. "We always encourage our partners to find impactful ways to connect with our customers."