Starbucks Offers Free Accessibility App for Visually-Impaired Customers

With free access to Aira in all its US locations, visually-impaired customers can now access Starbucks in a safer and more streamlined manner.

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Need to Know 

  • Starbucks is partnering with accessibility app Aira to provide a more inclusive experience for visually impaired customers.
  • The app, which will be accessible for free in all US stores, connects blind and low-vision users to visual interpreters in real-time.
  • The launch comes as part of an initiative by Starbucks to provide a more inclusive experience for all customers.

Analysis

Starbucks has announced it is now offering free access to an accessibility app called Aira, which launches this week in all US Starbucks locations. The app connects blind and low-vision people with visual interpreters. 

Aira is free to download but requires a monthly subscription, based on how many minutes a user would need. But in an effort to be a more inclusive retailer, Starbucks will be covering the cost of service for customers within its stores. 

The app connects Starbucks customers to remote Aira agents, “who instantly share visual information, such as a store’s layout to items on the menu boards and in the display cases.” Aira can also be used for finding the restroom or social distancing in the line, so visually-impaired customers can navigate the store safely. 

Starbucks has launched free access to Aira in all of its US locations and tested it at one of its nine signing stores, which are staffed with employees skilled in sign language. 

The Aira program is part of a growing initiative by Starbucks to be more inclusive to those with disabilities. 

The coffee chain is using its innovation hub, the Tryer Centre (which also lent its expertise to the vaccine rollout) to work on more inclusive design for Starbucks’ products and stores. 

Starbucks also led the testing of clear face masks, “which are now provided to all Deaf and hard of hearing partners in Starbucks U.S. retail, non-retail, distribution centers, and roasting plants.” 

“We’re trying to keep accessibility in mind with every project,” said Emily MacKinnon, a program manager on the Store Formats team. “It’s exciting work and we have found that integrating inclusive design early into our processes can lead us to new innovation that benefits a wider range of customers. When you design with diversity in mind, it creates a better experience for everyone.”

Early in the pandemic, Starbucks stood out as a leader in the food and beverage space when it came to reimagining the store space and re-opening doors as safely as possible. In those early days, the coffee company leaned heavily on digital tools to facilitate in-store pickup, expanded its payment and rewards options to improve the mobile experience, and is now using its in-house AI tool, Deep Brew, to guide future plans and expansion. 

Added MacKinnon, “Ultimately, we will know we are successful when we can create a welcoming and inclusive environment where everyone can experience the best of what Starbucks has to offer—a moment of connection and an uplift to your day.”

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