5 Ways Aira is Being Used at Starbucks

A woman in front of a Starbucks display case is using a smartphone connected to earphones, with the Aira app open on the screen. In the display case are baked goods. At the bottom of the image is the white Aira logol. To the right of the image is a turquoise background with text to the right of the image reads "5 Ways Explorers Use Aira at Starbucks."

Starbucks has long committed to fostering access and inclusion for their partners, customers, and communities. One way they have demonstrated this commitment for the blind and low vision community is by offering Aira access for free at every Starbucks store in the US. Aira is being used at Starbucks in a broad range of ways that contribute to a more inclusive and warm experience for everyone. We spoke with Krista Flores, Manager of Disability Inclusion at Starbucks, to hear more about what Aira use looks like in action at their stores. 

1. Assists customers to independently place an order 

Starbucks customers who are blind or low vision use Aira to make the experience of entering a store and ordering food or drink more accessible. Once inside a Starbucks store, a customer can open the Aira app and instantly connect to a remote visual interpreter. The visual interpreter can assist with helping locate the line to order, read the menu, describe food items on display, and help with navigating to where customers wait for orders. Aira empowers Starbucks customers to accomplish this with independence, and get the order that they want with more efficiency. This can be especially helpful for customers who are entering a Starbucks store new to them and would like some additional information on the layout of the store and description of the environment. 

2. Adds to the Starbucks atmosphere 

Since its early days, Starbucks has endeavored to foster a culture of warmth and belonging in its stores. Flores likens the feeling people have in a Starbucks to the “third place.” People have home and work, and often a third place where they feel comfortable, almost like an extension of their living room. 

Flores says that offering Aira in Starbucks stores is a way to bring more of that third place to the blind or low vision community. Customers can call Aira, and with the assistance of a visual interpreter, can access information about the environment. This could include anything from a description of the people inside the store, the seating area layout, and holiday specific decorations. It can also help people get set up and comfortable at Starbucks, accomplishing tasks like finding an outlet for their computer and getting situated to do some work. “I don’t think that there’s any other way we could have provided that environment,” says Flores. “Aira helps create that.” 

3. Makes the retail experience accessible for everyone 

By providing on-demand visual interpretation to their customers, Starbucks is ensuring that everyone can fully experience the retail side of their stores. Apart from their food and beverages, a big part of Starbucks is the branded items you can purchase in store, like thermoses, tumblers, mugs, gift cards and coffee beans. Starbucks prides themselves on these offerings, and even has an in-house team that consults on producing mugs with accessible designs. By calling Aira, a person who is blind or low vision can access a detailed description of retail items as well as prices. They can participate in the full range of offerings from Starbucks. 

4. Assists partners in navigating Starbucks stores and offices 

As well as being used by customers, Aira is also offered for free to Starbucks employees, referred to by the company as partners. Partners who travel for work find Aira valuable because it empowers them to navigate with independence. It has also been helpful for partners who work in Starbucks Support Center in Seattle. The historic building is almost 110 years old, and due to the era it was constructed in, has lots of curves, pillars, and other features that are not always intuitive for navigating. Aira has been very useful in helping with navigation for partners working in the Starbucks Support Center. “I know Aira is really critical for wayfinding in that facility, and just getting around,” says Flores. She explains that it allows partners to participate at the same level as anyone else. 

5. Ensures everyone gets to share in group moments 

“There’s so much of our world that’s visual,” says Flores. She explains that when we’re meeting new people or in new environments, it’s easy for people with sight to take for granted all the little details not available to a person who is blind or has low vision. By being able to access visual information, people can be included in the nuances and details of a moment. Flores recalls a company meeting where a team member was doing some dance moves. There was a lot of laughter and it was a fun team moment. Flores was pleased that her colleague who was using Aira was being included and was able to be part of the joke with the rest of the team. “I think that just creates that connection and that understanding of what’s going on and brings everyone into the fold.” 

Download Aira for Google Play or in the Apple App Store, and open it in any US Starbucks store to connect with a visual interpreter, free of charge.