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Megan's experiences of learning to drive

Photo: Now Megan loves driving.

Megan (20), who is profoundly deaf, found learning to drive a challenge but reaped the rewards once she’d passed her test.

Driving the one-hour journey from her family home back to university, no one would know that Megan found learning to drive any more difficult than the person pulled up next to her at the traffic lights. But as someone who relies mostly on lip-reading, there were quite a few challenges she had to overcome.

Megan’s parents found out she was deaf when she turned two years old and she had cochlear implants fitted at six and nine. She went to mainstream school and was the only deaf pupil there at first, although others joined later.

“My parents wanted me to have the same life experiences as other children and wanted to see how I would cope in mainstream school,” Megan says. “I had a learning support assistant all through primary school and it was a very personal, small school. In high school gradually I had less and less support because independence is very important to me.”

Independence

Even before turning 17, Megan was excited about learning to drive and never saw being deaf as an obstacle. “I’ve always wanted to learn to drive because I wanted to get myself to and from school. You’re independent when you can drive, you can get anywhere you want,” she says.

At 17, Megan was recommended a local instructor by her friend and quickly booked in lessons. Her family were nervous but felt confident she was safe with the instructor. “I told him I was deaf and we spoke about ways he could help me,” Megan says.

“I was most worried about him talking while I was driving. It’s difficult because obviously I wanted to focus on the road so I did have to ask him to repeat himself a lot. It was a case of him speaking slowly and clearly.

“In the first lesson he taught me how to start and stop the car and talked about ways of changing gears. Obviously I can’t hear the revs to know when to change them so he taught me to use the miles per hour instead. It took me a while to grasp that. We also came up with and used some signs in the lessons. I don’t sign usually but I found that signs for left and right, roundabout exits and emergency stops were useful.”

Tiredness

Megan had lessons for nearly a year but regularly practised with her grandad too. “My driving lessons were so tiring, that was probably the biggest challenge for me,” she says. “I didn’t book them on school days because I would be too tired. When I came back I was exhausted because I was learning a lot and having to concentrate harder on hearing because I wasn’t lip-reading. I had to make sure I got a good night’s sleep before and the rest of the day I would just chill and watch TV.”

When it was time to book her theory test, Megan asked the centre for some adjustments. “They said I could have my own room and a lady to read out the questions to me but they didn’t do subtitles,” Megan explains.

“It was annoying that the hazard perception part of the test didn’t have subtitles as this would have made me feel more independent. But the lady explained the test to me before it began. It felt useful and comforting to have her there.”

After passing her theory test the second time round, Megan was ready to take her practical test. Her instructor rang up and booked it for her and Megan requested a female examiner with a clear voice as this is who she hears best.

“I got an old man which wasn’t very good because his voice was quite raspy,” Megan says.

“I struggled to hear his voice but I just kept driving well and asked him to repeat himself. Luckily it doesn’t matter if you go the wrong way in the test, as long as you do it safely. They had said the instructor could come in the car with me but I felt too nervous.”

But Megan didn’t need to worry, she passed first time with just one minor! “I was really happy, I rang up half my family to tell them I’d passed,” she beams. “Everyone was very happy for me!”

Driving alone

After passing, it was time to take to the road on her own and she was almost as nervous then as when taking the test! “It was really scary going out driving for the first time on my own,” Megan says. “It was exciting though, you’re really a grown-up now.”

Now Megan loves driving but there are still a few challenges in the car. “It’s difficult for me to have conversations while I’m driving, especially when I’ve got the heating or radio on,” she explains. “If I have my friends sitting in the back, I can’t hear them.”

Now she’s moved to university, Megan drives the one-hour journey home nearly every weekend. “All through my life I knew I wanted to work with children so I decided to go to university to do Child Studies,” Megan says. “I might go into teaching but I think it will be hard with my deafness and tiredness. I’m not going to let that stop me though.

“I would say to other deaf young people, you can do everything everyone else can do, learn to drive, be a teacher. You just need a little bit of help along the way.”