Japan’s first deaf bus driver

Meet 25-year-old Takeyama Matsuyama. According to Nihon (Japan) Bus Association, Japan’s first deaf bus driver.

Matsuyama, who has profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, makes two round trips between Tokyo and Haneda Airport a day. He wears a hearing aid, which helps him partially hear sounds. Japanese traffic law had previously prevented deaf people, like Matsuyama, from acquiring a class two driver’s license, needed for operating transportation vehicles that carry passengers, like buses or taxis. But that law was amended in April 2016, giving Matsuyama the legal right to become a bus driver, under the condition of wearing a hearing aid. That allowed him to finally fulfil his childhood dream.

“When I was an elementary school student, I rode on trains or buses often and the drivers looked very cool to me,” says Matsuyama. “I had longed for this job that carries passengers.” Since last October, Matsuyama has been driving buses on the streets of Tokyo. Matsuyama says there’s still prejudice against disabled people, but he’s working hard to spread understanding. “In Japan, there’s still prejudice against disabled people or a certain image that deaf people are unreliable even for work in coffee shops or ramen restaurants,” he says. “We have worked hard to spread the understanding of disabled people, step by step.”

Matsuyama decided to apply for a class two driver’s license while working as a delivery driver. He maintained a spotless driving record and worked his way up the ranks to persuade his company to hire another ten deaf employees. Despite having the necessary license to drive a bus, Matsuyama’s applications were originally rejected by all seven companies he applied to. But Tokyo Bus Group then revised their earlier decision and hired him. Tomohiko Sato, the director of Tokyo Bus Group, says there’s a lack of drivers in the bus industry and transportation industry as a whole.

Easing regulations, such as for those with hearing impairments or lowering age limits, could help offset the problem, he says. “There is a lack of drivers,” says Sato. “While thinking about this problem, easing regulations like the license’s requirements, not only for the those with hearing impairment, but also the requirements for the medium – and large-sized vehicles and lowering the age limit are being discussed as well. “We are happy if people know that we hire people like him and help to expand the work fields for similar disabled people. Actually, some people have already contacted us.” Bus tour conductor Yahiro Ishibashiri helps Matsuyama with verbal communication with passengers and radio communication between colleagues. She’s worked with him four times already and says she hasn’t experienced any problems.

“There’s no difference between him and other drivers except he needs a different communication tool. There is really nothing to worry about,” she says. Some of his Matsuyama’s colleagues have started taking sign language classes so they can better communicate with him. Although there have been some negative opinions from customers, most are positive about having Matsuyama as their driver. “Some taxi drivers talk to you, but some might not,” she says.

Original article from AP Archive – 14th June 2018