Impact Series

Starbucks implements tech for blind and low-vision clients to help in-store navigation and extra

“I can be like every other customer with the same number of choices,” said Susan Mazrui, a Starbucks customer who uses Aira to navigate a store. (Starbucks Photo)

Starbucks is turning to technology to help blind and low-vision customers navigate its U.S. stores. The Seattle-based coffee giant is now offering free access to Aira, a service that connects those customers to remotely located visual interpreters who relay visual information through a third-party mobile app.

By connecting with a human agent and receiving real-time assistance, customers can use Aira to find amenities in a store such as the order counter or restrooms; read in-store menus; peruse a display case; social distance in line; and more.

In a story on its website, Starbucks profiled user Susan Mazrui, a blind customer who walked into a Seattle Starbucks and, using Aira, was able to ask a remote agent to describe the layout of the store so she could navigate to the order line and point-of-sale, read the menu to her and describe options in the pastry and Ready-to-Eat and Drink cases and on the counters.

“It helps me scan the environment and learn what’s there and do it quickly,” Mazrui told Starbucks Stories & News.

(Starbucks Photo)

Starbucks describes the effort as part of the company’s long term commitment to inclusion, diversity, and equity, and enhancing the employee and customer experience through accessibility and inclusive design. Other updates include:

  • Updates to the Starbucks app and Starbucks menu webpage to enhance accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Providing clear face masks to all deaf and hard of hearing partners in Starbucks U.S. retail, non-retail, distribution centers, and roasting plants.
  • Plans to roll out new large-print and Braille menus this summer in all U.S. and Canada stores.

San Diego-based Aira’s service is one of the most widely used by blind and low vision people. Starbucks first tested its use in seven U.S. cities early this year and Starbucks credits Aira with helping customers navigate the protocols and physical changes implemented in stores during COVID-19.

“Aira has lessened the requirement for touch and helps us maintain social distancing. Blind customers are able to navigate the store safely,” said Matthew Gilsbach, store manager at Starbucks’ D.C. Signing Store. “For people to feel like they can come into the store, despite their concerns of what’s going on with COVID… that goes a long way.”

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