The JJs List Blog

Art Thou Winning Us Over, Starbucks?

Posted by on February 17, 2016 - 6 Comments

Starbucks, Oh ye of the venti, grande, and talls!  Are you making a genuine commitment to hiring people with disabilities?

Recently, a video went viral that showcased a young adult with autism working at a Starbucks.  The video put music to his disability and gave him a dancing schtick.  Voila, Starbucks gets good press.  But is that really the point?

Reframing the conversation away from the tragic hero disability story into successful outcomes is where it’s at.  What we noticed about that video was not the barista’s dancing skills or the hooting and hollering of the peanut gallery but rather this employee’s skillful workmanship of the steamy minefield that is a Starbucks cappuccino machine.  For that, we say bravo.’s own disability aware reviews of Starbucks show 32 positive consumer reviews against 2 negative reviews and Starbucks has described their web accessibility efforts.  Our own business review data shows that Starbucks’ accessibility is widely appreciated.

We don’t see people with disabilities represented consistently on the front-lines.  We believe that’s one reason why this story went viral, because it’s a novelty rather than the norm to see an employee with a disability at a Starbucks.  When we see one, a video takes over the internet under the banner of inspiration.

On the consumer side, the Chicago Tribune spotlighted a Father and his son who are regulars at Starbucks because for an individual with autism or other developmental disabilities, having a regular schedule and a familiar environment is part of the adaptation process.  This has the very real potential of transferring to employment so we encourage Starbucks and other companies with similar environments to continue this trend of hiring individuals with disabilities.

Last January, Starbucks highlighted a plant in Minden, Nevada that employs 13 people with disabilities.  Great!  We welcome true change and that will show up in the percentages and duties of staff with disabilities and we thank those managers who put people with disabilities in positions to succeed.  Currently, according to the United States Department of Labor only 17% of people with disabilities, who constitute one fifth of the United States’ population, are employed.

Oh Starbucks, promise us that you are not just disability-washing your brand, much like businesses greenwashed their brands in the 2000’s, stepping over each others’ toes to be the most environmentally friendly product.  There’s a lot of work left to do in hiring people with disabilities.  Let’s keep it up!

BenheadshotBenjamin Lachman is the Business and Community Engagement Coordinator for


Yakini Branch says:
Feb 23, 2016

This is a very good perspective, especially the last point. I really hope that it is not just a marketing ploy but I have my doubts.

Kristen says:
Feb 25, 2016

Thank you for highlighting the importance of employment outcomes in this article! Let’s get more people with disabilities employed so that Sam and other employees with disabilities are more commonplace.

JJ Hanley says:
Feb 25, 2016

Right on!

Donna Catalano says:
Feb 25, 2016

Although Starbucks is receiving positive publicity here, it was actually the store manager who deserves the kudos. When both men were interviewed on the Ellen Show this week, it was clear that the store manager saw this young man’s potential, hired him without hesitation, and provided some minimal accommodation to help him be successful.

Corporate culture is important but more often than not, it is the individuals who ‘get it’ who have the most impact on employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

JJ Hanley says:
Feb 25, 2016

100% agreed – that’s why it’s always important to thank those who are responsible for putting people into positions to succeed and are good at understanding the circumstances under which that happens.

Jake says:
Feb 25, 2016

Way to go Starbucks! There’s only one problem with this video from the perspective of someone with a visual impairment: it is not audio described. Great music though!

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