Turning 17… The age when people can learn to drive. Excited by the thought of independence or the daunted by the concept of being in control of a car on the road, for Deaf people it’s a life experience that may be questioned;… ‘Can I drive if I’m deaf’?
The simple answer is; Of course you can! It’s actually a common misconception that Deaf people can’t drive…
Is it because we might not be able to hear what’s going on around us? I believe that driving relies mainly on visual skills, being alert to what’s around you whilst navigating the roads.
Perhaps we may not be able to hear sirens or horns, but my driving instructor said it’s not compulsory to hear to be able to drive. What we lose in hearing, we gain in our other senses.
If you’re interested in learning to drive, it’s important to find the right instructor for you. For those who are D/deaf, an instructor with experience in deafness is an important consideration. My instructor had a hearing loss, and has taught and passed a few deaf people I knew, so I thought it would be worth learning with him.
There are different ways of learning, from individual lessons to intensive courses. Also, as well as professional lessons, you can buy a car or use a relative’s to practise in (as long as you have someone who is 21+ or has at least 3 years driving experience).
Communicating in lessons
How you wish to communicate in driving lessons is up to individual choice. You may wish to consider using some sign language, having extra lessons, having the instructor take time to explain things using diagrams and demonstrations. As I rely on lip reading’ I had to use some signs instead when the instructor was giving me directions. We found ways around things such as not being able to hear the revving of the engine by noticing in the mirror the rear of the car rise up and when to release the hand brake.
I always agree that the more experience the better. It’s great if you can take your time to learn, rather than rushing through and making mistakes. I brought my car before passing my test so I could build my confidence and have as much practise as possible in between lessons. Although I didn’t practice in my own car until I had had several lessons beforehand. Driving without dual controls is a big risk, so I would always suggest getting some lessons and expertise under your belt first before going on the open road with a friend or relative.
How to tackle the tests
One part of getting your driving licence is the practical test. See if your local test centre has a deaf aware examiner, and if you learnt using signs; to see if they have an examiner who knows the sign language needed.
If not, contact the test centre and ask your instructor if they can be available during the test so they can teach the examiner the signs to use. For example when the examiner gave instructions of where to go while driving, my instructor who sat in the back would show the examiner the signs for left/right/straight on/roundabout etc and would then sign it to me.
Don’t forget your theory test too! There are lots of fantastic resources like books, apps and DVDs you can use to practise. I spent many hours with my father helping me to understand the Highway Code in depth before taking the test. If you need to, you can ask for special requirements in the test i.e. Sign Language interpreter/Subtitles/Extra Time/Transcript etc…
Insurance and Breakdown Cover
Once you have passed and have bought a car, before you set off on the road, it’s important to make sure your vehicle is insured and you have adequate Breakdown Cover in place. I chose breakdown cover I could rely on which included a text facility as I cannot telephone, for peace of mind.
There are other personal adaptions which I have introduced to help me, it’s important to find what works for you. I have an extra mirror to help me to lip read my front seat passenger. I worry if I will know which direction sirens are coming from, but my hearing friends tell me it isn’t easy for any driver to determine that, it’s important to be very vigilant visually at all times.
Learning to drive is like anything new, difficult at first, but having your own independence at the end of it is definitely worth it!