This is just the question, the Ali Yavar Jung National Institute which organized a seminar recently on this subject wished to pose to various government and non–governmental agencies. “Driving is an activity based more on one’s motor reflexes and visual precision, and this is not affected in the hearing impaired adults. So, why should they be denied the right to drive,” asks Dr M N Nagaraja, Director in charge of the AYJNIHH, Mumbai.
There are, however, two aspects to be taken into consideration here. The first, under the Disabilities Act, the handicapped have the same right as other human beings, provided their disabilities are not a hindrance to their performing the relevant action. Second, hearing does not play a major role in driving. The driver in the air–conditioned car listening to music bears testimony to this. The traffic signals are visual, the traffic policemen use hand signals and so there is negligible use of sound in traffic regulation. Even drivers of various vehicles on roads use visual modes of communication.
“The physically handicapped in our country say, those without the use of their legs are allowed to drive motor vehicles with modifications made in their vehicles, and a sticker on the vehicle indicating the physical nature of the driver. Then, how could one justify disallowing the hearing impaired to drive? The idea seems totally obsolete. Why not put the hearing impaired through tests to determine their abilities related to vision, motor reflexes, emergency management, etc”, asks Rani Parasnis, principal of the Red Cross school for the deaf. Rani adds, “In fact, the history of accidents in the case of the hearing impaired are negligible since they tend to be extra careful due to their disability and put other senses to maximum use”.
Take the example of Rajesh Apte, who works as a research officer in the Serum Institute of India. Rajesh is totally deaf, but drives a car as efficiently as anybody else. He makes maximum use of his rear view mirrors, other visual signs and catches vibrations in an instant. Laments Rajesh, “No one seems to be able to explain why the hearing impaired are allowed to ride bicycles on busy roads but not allowed to drive! I had appealed to the Ministry of Social Welfare a few years ago, but to no avail. In India, the deaf are considered less handicapped than the orthopedically or visually handicapped persons, which is manifest in the fact that we are given far less concessions than the former. Then why put us in the same category when issuing driving licenses?”
In the United States, the deaf are issued ‘Restricted’ licenses which have to be renewed periodically. Even the viva voce test for driving licenses are conducted in sign language, points out Rajesh, who feels that this matter is still unresolved in India due to a sheer lack of understanding on the part of the authorities.
We cannot deny the fact that a hearing impaired person is more cautious and careful than normal drivers. Since he is totally dependent on his vision, he tends to be more alert. The social welfare department, of the Government of Maharashtra has already submitted a proposal to the relevant authorities with its recommendations. Imposition of extra safety measures like special speed limits, use of both rear view mirrors, and an indication regarding the handicap of the driver are certain considerations that have been underlined.
Given present day advances in technology, there appears to be no logic in denying hearing impaired the right to drive. Modified vehicles if necessary, an iota of compassion and understanding on the part of traffic authorities and the general public at large as well, would go a long way in ensuring the safety of all concerned, and a normal life for the hearing impaired. Truly...