October 22, 2015 Opportunity

Partners with Disabilities find a Welcoming Community at Starbucks

Taylor Yukawa recalls the day in 2014 when his academic advisor called him about an internship with Starbucks. Then a student at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, he didn’t know what to expect.

“After interviews through email and FaceTime, I was offered the role as a summer intern,” said Yukawa. “Today, I am a fulltime partner (employee) in Starbucks finance department. It has been a great journey.”

Yukawa utilizes instant messenger on his computer or a white board and marker at his desk for quick conversations. He also takes advantage of the interpreter service that Starbucks provides.

“Having an interpreter for meetings and trainings is an important accommodation for me,” said Yukawa. “It’s one of the things that Starbucks offers that not all companies do.”

Starbucks has long valued diversity and inclusion as part of its mission and guiding principles. This includes hiring partners with various backgrounds and working with them to find success in their careers. Throughout October, Starbucks is recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness about disability employment and celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

Starbucks partners discuss the advantages of hiring people with disabilities and how the company supports them in finding fulfillment in the workplace.

Attracting Qualified Job Applicants

Together, Alex Cooper and Neha Sinha make up the Brand and Channels team under the Talent Acquisition group at Starbucks.

“Our goal is to attract the greatest number of qualified candidates,” said Cooper. “We want to see applications from these candidates land on a Starbucks recruiter’s desk.”

Cooper and Sinha pay particular attention to websites that attract under-represented groups in the workplace. This includes GettingHired one of the more prominent sites providing job opportunities for people with disabilities.

“Getting Hired has been a great partner for Starbucks for many years. We share great jobs and they provide great candidates,” Cooper added.

“Starbucks was one of the first companies to join our talent community shortly after our founding,” said Adam Streets, product owner, GettingHired, Inc. “We have grown into the largest disability job board in America. None of this growth would have been possible without the early commitment of companies like Starbucks.”

“I aim to drive awareness that Starbucks values people with disabilities and wants success for them,” said Sinha. Diversity and inclusion is a key pillar in our employment brand. We want this audience to know that. If other companies take notice, we can drive larger, systemic change for this population.”

A Focus on Skill not Disability

Inspired by Starbucks Corporate Facilities long history and commitment to inclusion in the workplace, Vicki Askew, manager, Starbucks Facilities Operations and Services, has continued the tradition of building a team of partners with varied backgrounds.

“It’s important to build diverse teams to represent our customer base, local communities and who we are as a company,” said Askew. “Having everyone look and think the same way would be limiting. When people think differently, they bring useful perspectives to the table.”

Askew looks at partners’ differences as an opportunity to learn and grow. Her team includes two partners who have Down Syndrome and one who is legally blind.

“I don’t look at a person’s disability. I look at the skills they can bring to my team,” she said. “Once you get the right tools in place for partners with disabilities to do their jobs, they are able to contribute positively as strong team players.”

Accommodations that Meet Partners’ Needs

Heather Robinson, a representative for Starbucks Partner Contact Center, has learned to manage life with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements called tics.

“Tourette’s interferes with my life sometimes, but it’s a part of me. I try to be positive about it,” said Robinson.

Six years ago, Robinson found the need for multiple days off from work because her tics were gaining in frequency, interrupting sleep and leaving her exhausted.

“My supervisor at the time asked me if I had ever considered intermittent leave,” said Robinson. “I looked into it and applied.”

Intermittent leave gives Robinson the flexibility to adjust her schedule each month when she has extreme challenges with her tics. Starbucks worked with Robinson and her doctor to establish this option, which served as the impetus for developing other accommodations that support Robinson and members of her team.

This month, Robinson celebrated 15 years with Starbucks and is thriving in her job. For the past two years, she has been recognized as “Most Involved” by her leadership team and peers.

“The best advice I can offer other partners is to speak up and ask for what you need,” said Robinson. “Starbucks has been great at working with me to find ways to excel at my job.”

Opportunities Outside the U.S.

Starbucks support of people with disabilities reaches beyond the U.S. as well. Starbucks Thailand is working with the Rajanukul Institute and other disability schools to hire new partners. This includes Sirinlak Chalat, a café attendant with Down Syndrome who has been working at the Starbucks Langsuan Community Store in Bangkok for two years.

“Sirinlak is an extraordinary girl. She works hard and wants her customers to feel happy,” said Manida Maungkeaw, Starbucks Langsuan store manager.”

Chalat is one of several young people featured in a new documentary called “The Down,” which premiered across Thailand earlier this month. The movie features the lives and families of individuals with Down Syndrome.

“I am so proud that one of my partners is now a movie actress,” said Wacharachai Alanyakorn, Starbucks Langsuan supervisor. “Our team feels so honored to work in this special store, give this opportunity to Sirinlak and see her social and personal development.”


Learn more about Starbucks Commitment to Access and Disability Inclusion

For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom