Ordering at a drive-thru is something many people take for granted. But a viral video shows the simple act of ordering a mocha frappuccino from Starbucks made possible because of technology. With over 6 million hits, people are realizing that drive-thrus — which were created to help with efficiency and convenience — are the opposite for people with hearing loss.
“I never thought about the fact that you can’t order at a typical drive-thru because you can’t hear what they’re asking, even though they could hear you!!!” wrote a friend in an email.
I don’t rely on sign language to communicate like Rebecca King, the Deaf patron in the video. But I can’t use drive-thrus either – not that I haven’t tried. I’ve skipped the order window and just driven up to the take-out window. I’ve also spoken into the microphone and said, “I’m deaf, so I’ll just pull up to the next window.” Or I’ll give my order and then repeat it when I see the employee. If I’m feeling especially brave, I consider the process an auditory rehab exercise and try to understand what the employee is saying. It’s a lot easier when put into context – like the famous question from McDonald’s: “Would you like fries with that?”
But let’s face it – drive-thrus are the ultimate in laziness. Sometimes it even takes longer to order at the drive-thru than it does to get out of the car and walk inside. When my kids were younger, it was a dilemma: Do I wake up a sleeping child or take a child out of the PIA carseat or deal with the hassle of the drive-thru? If the weather is bad, drive-thrus are definitely appealing. And since they exist, it’d be nice to at least have the option to use them.
Starbucks announced in mid-October that they were adding video screens to 2,400 cafes with drive-thrus. It’s not clear how many locations have this currently in place. The St. Augustine, Fla. Starbucks that King frequents is located near a school for the deaf and blind, so it has worked to accommodate those customers. Four of that location’s baristas know ASL.
This scenario just isn’t possible in the real world. This is another reason why I’m glad that my parents decided that my sister and I would learn how to lipread and speak. I can still benefit from video screen technology even though I don’t sign, because it would allow me to lipread.
Drive-thru employees always have a video screen at their end, so theoretically, it should be easy to make it two-way. For those (many) locations that won’t have employees who know sign language, perhaps a texting/typing option could be added – either by using a pull-out keyboard, or better yet, our own phones. Wouldn’t that be a great app? Anyone? Bueller?
In the meantime, I hope other companies take note. After all, improving accessibility will only increase profits. Starbucks certainly has the money to implement this technology, so the cost is likely negligible compared to the eventual payout.
Can I order a video screen, please?