The Starbucks of the future will be quieter

Photo credit: Dom J

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

CNN reports that the corporate giant Starbucks announced the “Starbucks of the future” with a first store in Washington, D.C. According to reporters and Eva Rothenberg, Starbucks opened its first cafe designed to give customers with disabilities a “more accessible” experience. Renovated or new cafes will implement the company’s “Inclusive Spaces Framework.” The new stores will feature softer lighting, lower counters and less cluttered paths making access easier for those using wheelchairs or scooters. Of interest to The Quiet Coalition, new stores will also include acoustic modifications like materials that minimize background noise and resonance.

According to its website, Starbucks aims to “create a culture of warmth and belonging in its stores – a place where everyone is welcome.” The initiative was applauded by former Congressman Tony Coehlo. Coehlo was also the primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, stating that “Starbucks’ opening of their new store built with inclusive design elements is a big moment as we try to make retail spaces more accessible and inclusive.” The CNN story also mentions Walmart’s efforts to make stores more inclusive during early morning hours. 

These corporate initiatives dovetail with the activities of Quiet Communities’ working group on restaurant noise, which recently met to discuss how restaurants can be made quieter. High ambient noise levels are a disability rights issue for people with three auditory disorders: hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. But there are no specific ADA standards for those with these disorders, except for the deaf or profoundly hearing impaired. I would like to see specific standards for average and peak noise levels, just as there are standards for doors and bathroom stalls for those with mobility disabilities.

One of the simplest environmental modifications to make stores and restaurants more accessible is to turn down the volume of background music from rock concert levels to levels that allow patrons to converse without straining to speak or be heard. That costs absolutely nothing!

However, I was raised to think that “half a loaf is better than none,” so I am happy to see that Starbucks and Walmart are taking steps to make stores more accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. We hope that other retail stores will join their efforts!

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