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New Starbucks barista is deaf, inspiring others

Posted at 11:41 PM, Sep 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-25 20:49:12-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — A new face is serving up coffee as a Starbucks barista in the Hyatt Place Boca Raton. It's the latest promotion for Angie Diaz in her 8 months in hospitality.

Diaz moved from Colombia, so she had been learning a new language while also finding a job. She's deaf, which made the transition that much more complicated, learning the signed and written words of her new community.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only about 19% of people with disabilities are employed in the United States, far less than the general population.

"In the past, I really had a lot of struggles and I really had to open myself up to opportunities," Diaz signed.

Diaz went through the Disability Services Hospitality Training Program with CareerSource in Palm Beach County. She learned hospitality skills while being given fair access to an interpreter in class. When she was first hired at the hotel, she was provided an interpreter for her training there.

"My team members, when they found out I was deaf, they didn't really know how to handle it. They thought maybe it would be really hard to communicate," she signed.

General Manager Sharon Ballard said Diaz quickly helped the coworkers adjust.

"She's no different from anyone else, it's just the few alterations we have to communicate with her," Ballard said.

Ballard said Diaz gave such excellent customer service, she was promoted to the position of a Starbucks Barista.

"So she's working a bit one-on-one with the guests, and then hopefully we'll be able to get her at the front desk as well. To just move her up in her career," Ballard said.

Hyatt Place Boca Raton has provided a machine that allows Diaz and other employees to basically "text" back and forth quickly on two computers facing each other. Diaz, however, suggests there are many ways to communicate, even if a person hasn't learned sign language yet, including using gestures and facial expressions.

"I have a really go-getter personality, and I showed them that we can find ways to communicate," she explained.

Diaz is a model of success. Four other associates who are deaf have been hired in Hyatt hotels in the area, all from the CareerSource program.

"All of this collectively has helped me become who I am. And I feel like I have really established myself as a deaf community member here. And I continue to learn and I feel so proud about that," Diaz explained.

The CareerSource Hospitality Training Program application is reopening again October 14. The program helps people with disabilities research and apply for jobs. Job applicants who are deaf, hard-of-hearing and visually impaired are given services to communicate with businesses. CareerSource also arranges for a sign-language interpreter for in-house interviews or assists with the paperwork needed during a job search.

"Coming to work, I feel so proud, I love coming to such a beautiful establishment, first of all, and being in a position where I'm doing customer service. I never thought I'd do something like this. And me being the only deaf individual here it shows that we can find a way to communicate, and all of my bosses and all of the different leadership here are so supportive, which makes this such a wonderful opportunity," Diaz explained.