Navigating the coffee shop: Aira at Starbucks

The barista’s to-do list:

  1. Fill the hopper with espresso beans.
  2. Steam the soy milk.
  3. Deliver fabulous customer service.

Task #3 involves keeping everyone’s needs in mind, including coffee lovers who are low vision. If your coffee shop of choice is Starbucks, here’s some good news: 86 Starbucks locations throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area are part of a trial run of the Aira application. Aira is an app-based audio service that provides real-time visual interpretation and navigation support.

How does it work? The user wears smart glasses or holds up their smartphone to show their surroundings to a sighted Aira agent who helps the user navigate a space. Aira is free to people with vision loss for calls up to 5 minutes; a longer call requires a subscription, except in locations like some airports — and these Starbucks, too. If you use Aira at Starbucks, you’ll have help navigating the line, reviewing the menu, and more.

Of course, there’s more to great customer service than simply hosting the Aira app. This is where Vision Loss Resources comes in. Recently, several Starbucks managers got in touch with Vision Loss Resources’ own Mark Dahlberg (Manager, Community Services), Renee Waclaw (Community Specialist), and Gary (VLR client and ambassador). They discussed how the cafes can better serve their customers who are blind or visually impaired. Gary shared his perspective and personal experience navigating spaces like Starbucks, and Mark and Renee shared some best practices for customer service employees.

If you work in a customer-facing role, do a favor for yourself, your team, and your customers and reach out to Vision Loss Resources. We’re here to help with training and support. Interested? Email

Latest News Posts