How deaf people learn to drive

Written by rachel j. paik
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Deaf people can learn how to drive just as well as hearing people when instructed properly. People who are deaf may even make better drivers. Deaf people receive similar driving instruction to what hearing people receive---it's just taught in a different way. Even so, driving instruction for the deaf remains a controversial issue.

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Facts

It's possible for deaf people to learn how to drive. Unfortunately, there are often few driving instructors available because teaching deaf people to drive is uncommon and some driving instructors are intimidated by the task. This means that deaf people may have to rely on people like family and friends to learn how to drive. Sometimes this limits driving instruction because family and friends may be good at communicating with the deaf but not necessarily good at teaching how to drive.

Method

Deaf people learn how to drive primarily through visual learning. Teaching deaf people how to drive does not require knowing sign language, but it does require knowing how to communicate effectively. Driving instruction for deaf drivers involves using hand motions, eye contact and visual aids. To introduce car controls, driving instructors tap one of their limbs, and then a car control to indicate which limb is used for which control. When teaching functions like how to steer, use gears, accelerate and stop, driving instructors use visual aids to demonstrate the proper method and use hand signals to indicate directions and how much pressure should be used when operating the controls. Eye contact indicates to deaf students where they should be looking and paying attention.

Benefits

When deaf people drive, they enjoy a basic privilege they deserve just like anyone else. It also demonstrates that deafness does not have to hinder the quality of life. Public traffic may even benefit from having more deaf drivers on the road---8 studies conducted by different researchers from 1962 to 1991 comparing deaf drivers to hearing drivers suggest that deaf drivers have fewer accidents and traffic violations than hearing people do. It's possible that deaf people drive more safely because they have better concentration. Having impaired hearing improves the other senses, making deaf people more sensitive to movement and visual surroundings.

Controversy

Some people are uncomfortable with deaf people learning how to drive because hearing people say it's unsafe to drive without being able to hear. It can be difficult for hearing people to comprehend driving without auditory cues. For example, UPS attempted to ban deaf drivers in October 2006. Although the case was dismissed, discomfort with deaf people learning how to drive is present in the law. At least 26 countries do not allow deaf people to have a driver's license.

Potential

If more deaf people learn how to drive and do so successfully, it could decrease prejudice by changing the public's misconceptions about deaf drivers. In turn, decreased prejudice could help eliminate discrimination against deaf drivers in public policy.

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