SEATTLE—On a post on its corporate stories site last month, Starbucks announced it was expanding nationally, across all of its company-operated and licensed stores in the U.S., the use of a smartphone app, Aira, which connects people who are blind and low-vision to highly trained, remotely-located visual interpreters to provide instant access to visual information. The app is from San Diego-based Aira Tech Corp. The app can be downloaded for free or by calling 1-800-835-1934.

Users connect with a certified human Aira agent and then receive real-time assistance. People can use Aira for a number of tasks while at a Starbucks, including reading in-store information, finding amenities such as the order counter, a table or the restroom, for social distancing in line, finding a Starbucks itself or more.

Starbucks first tested Aira service in seven U.S. cities early this year, including at its Signing Store in Washington D.C., one of nine Signing Stores globally that provide a space for the deaf and hard of hearing community to connect through sign language and celebrate deaf culture. Starbucks' partners (employees) who work at these stores are all proficient in sign language.

Offering Aira service is part of Starbucks ongoing commitment to inclusion, diversity and equity and efforts to enhance accessibility of the Starbucks Experience for partners (employees) and customers, starting from the early stages of design.

Last year, Starbucks Accessibility Office, led by Sevana Massih, inclusion and diversity program manager of accessibility, its Store Design and Tryer Center teams came together to conduct research and consult with inclusive design experts, Starbucks partners, the disability community and organizations like the World Institute on Disability with a goal of designing with accessibility as the standard.