The right to drive for people with hearing loss
One of the most common questions people who are deaf receive is whether or not they can drive. And how?
The worldwide misconception that if you can’t hear, you can’t drive has led to the undermining of deaf drivers and their ability to drive safely.
It is true that we need good senses to drive. And that we should be able to know when a car is honking or when a police car and ambulance are making sirens. But in no place, there should be written that a hearing test is a necessary condition in obtaining a driver’s license. In fact, being able to see is far more important than being able to hear when it comes to navigating the roads.
Research has been conducted in a wide range of countries over the years and it bears witness that deafness does not have any sort of negative impact on a deaf person’s ability to drive. Deaf people may have a limited sense of hearing, but they are far more visually aware and cautious of their surroundings at all times. Some even argue that people who have hearing loss have an increased ability to drive safely because deafness enhances their peripheral vision and other senses. Even on the basis of global statistics, Deaf people are lesser in the thick of traffic accidents than hearing people. Seeing as driving is a visual activity on the whole, this supports the ability of deaf drivers to effectively operate a vehicle.
There are more than one ways deaf drivers use to drive safely. Some pay attention to visual cues, such as the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle or cues from other drivers on the road. Drivers who are deaf also utilise special electronic devices in their cars to alert them when emergency or other vehicles are nearby, such as using a lighted panel. Car horns can also be detected using this system and give deaf drivers the notification they need to proceed with caution. Others use panoramic mirrors to enhance their visual perception, which gives them a better sense of the other vehicles and objects around their automobile. For instance, noticing other drivers move to the side of the road is an indicator that an emergency vehicle is approaching.
Driving is an important human right to maintain for all. The prohibition of this right would mean an automatic restriction to the access to education, employment, medical, and any other necessary services, and lead to a myriad of socio-economic disadvantages.
The right to drive for people with hearing loss has been a hot topic of debate around the world. In almost all major continents, people who are deaf are issued licenses to drive. Be it North America (United States of America, Canada, Mexico), South America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina), European Union (all countries), Australia, Asia and Middle East (India, Japan, New Zealand, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Russia, Uzbekistan), and Africa (Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan has a population of 30 million people with disabilities. Out of which, over 10 million people are those who have some level of hearing loss.
For many years, the Pakistani Deaf Community has been trying to get their driver’s licenses approved. The leading forces of deaf community leaders and social organisations in Sindh, from DanishKadah, Media Deaf Interpreter (MDI), Media Deaf Karachi (MDK) to Syed Qassim Naveed Qamar, who is Special Assistant to CM Sindh on Department Of Empowerment Of Person With Disabilities (DEPD), led to the Chief Minister acknowledging the seriousness of the realisation of their right. The necessary amendment in the Second Schedule of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1965 was then directed to be made for issuance of a commercial or private driving license to hearing-impaired persons. Following the instruction, the bill for the right of Deaf people to obtain a driving license was debated in the Provincial Assembly of Sindh and passed as legislation.
So many people, supporters, and activists from in and outside the community who put their sweat and blood in this major triumph gathered together at Karachi Press Club and celebrated their gain of unconfined access to mobility. ConnectHear also played an integral role and interpreted for the individuals involved in the historical movement as they spoke about the struggles they used to face without this right and how appreciative they are for this favourable result.
On the word of Murad Ali Shah, who is the Chief Minister of Sindh:
Firstly, the issuance of driving license to deaf persons would be an implementation of guarantees provided in the Constitution, ordains of the relevant statute and the declaration in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) regarding the equality of the hearing-impaired persons, which would in turn make them feel empowered and motivated. Secondly, the hearing-impaired persons would get ease of access and mobility, as they would be able to move freely in their own vehicles without being a burden on anyone. Thirdly, the hearing-impaired persons would be able to make a livelihood by getting employed in jobs, which require driving skills such as drivers, transportation of goods, delivery persons, and courier services etc.
CM Syed Murad Ali Shah presenting one of the many first driver’s licenses to Mansoor Abdul Majeed, a person with hearing loss, at the CM House in Karachi on December 3, 2019.
“We have been driving cars for years. But now, we will be driving them legally. The development will help us reduce our dependence on others,” 42-year-old Mansoor Abdul Majeed, who works at a local factory and received his license from the chief minister, said.
“We were fighting for this right for several years,” Majeed added. “The traffic police told us that we could not drive because we could not hear. After getting disappointed by the license branch, I discussed the idea with my friend, Irfan Sharif, who invented the device which we used to convince the authorities.”
In this undated image, Irfan Sharif, who has a profound level of hearing loss, can be seen working on the Traffic Surrounding Notifier (TSN) device. Irfan Sharif is a school teacher and part-time programmer who was born without a sense of hearing. In 2017, he started working on the idea of developing a device to help fulfill the legal requirements of a driver’s license. A light blinks on the dashboard of the car or motor when there is any sound signal, which helps the driver look into the rearview or side mirrors and act accordingly. Irfan had found a gadget that vibrated and flashed when his baby would cry and decided to convert it into the traffic surrounding notifier system. The electronic device proved to be a groundbreaker and made it easier for the authorities to issue driver’s licenses to people with hearing loss.
“We are not inferior to anyone,” Majeed said. “We need our due rights.”