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Learning to drive

Photo: We asked deaf young people for their top tips about learning to drive.

There’s no reason why your deaf child can’t learn to drive. There are lots of ways to make learning deaf-friendly by asking their instructor to make some simple adjustments to the lessons and the theory and practical tests.

Three young people, who use a variety of communication methods, gave us their top tips for learning to drive.

Research instructors and don’t be afraid to try a few out

Rose (25), who is profoundly deaf and wears hearing aids.

“I was 17 when I first started to learn to drive and I did about 10 lessons. I found the whole thing very traumatic as I felt my driving instructor wasn’t as supportive as he could be. He tapped his leg or moved his hands while I was driving and, as I thought this was a visual cue for my attention, I stopped or pulled over. I did make him aware that it was distracting but he kept forgetting. However at 21, I plucked up the courage to start learning to drive again with a new driving instructor. This instructor had never worked with a deaf client before but he was completely understanding.”

If your teen doesn’t feel like their current instructor is the right match, it’s okay for them to find a new one. You can support them by researching instructors with them and asking around for recommendations.

Explain clearly to the instructor what they can do to help during lessons

Billy (18), who is profoundly deaf, wears cochlear implants and predominantly uses British Sign Language (BSL).

“My driving instructor was hearing and didn't know any BSL. However, she was really good and very patient with me; we stopped a lot for her to tell me what to do and she let me know how I was getting on. If she wanted me to turn left or right, she signalled with her hands. We both realised that I couldn't hear her if the fans were on in the car or the windows were open.”

Megan (20), who is profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants.

“When I started learning, we spoke about ways my instructor could help me. Obviously when you drive, there’s talking and that’s difficult but he spoke slowly and quite clearly in a way that wasn’t patronising.”

Rose: “My second instructor would fully inform me right at the beginning what to expect from the lesson. He put his hand right in the middle of the dashboard to let me know if he wanted me to go right or left and always kept his instructions short. He would write and draw on paper to explain what he wanted me to do and make sure I fully understood what he meant. He would even ask if I wanted the window up or the air conditioning off. It was such a positive experience and became fun.”

Your teen may feel confident in discussing their communication needs with their instructor before their first lesson. If not, you can support them in doing this.

Think about making some adjustments

You can discuss the different adjustments that can be made during lessons, both with your teen and their instructor.

Megan: “I used the miles per hour to know when to change gears, I couldn’t understand or hear the revs so my instructor thought of an alternative.”

Rose: “I decided to learn in an automatic rather than a manual car. I’d heard from other deaf people that it would be easier to learn, mainly because I wouldn’t need to listen to the different gears and would have less to focus on.”

Prepare early for the theory test and communicate any needs with the centre

Billy: “To book the theory test, I had to email the support team to say that I needed a sign language interpreter and extra time. With some help from my mum, I made my booking. Unfortunately my interpreter didn’t turn up. I had to take the test with an onscreen signer and that was really difficult because some of the signs are different in Scottish. The theory test made me nervous as it involves a lot of reading new words which I struggle with. It’s therefore important to prepare early. I downloaded the theory test app, ordered a Highway Code book and started practising.”

Megan: “The hazard perception part of the theory test didn’t have any subtitles which was challenging but I asked for my own room with a lady to ask me the questions. It felt useful and comforting to have her there. I had a Highway Code book to practise with and I did online quizzes and used a practise DVD.”

Explain communication needs to the examiner

When your teen takes their driving test, they probably won’t have met their examiner before. It’s really important the examiner is aware your child is deaf and has made reasonable adjustments for them. Meeting with them before the test and going through what help your teen needs can be useful.

Rose: “My driving instructor met the test centre team before my driving test to explain what support I would need. That gave me confidence. He also took me to meet the team beforehand and informed me who I’d be having as my examiner to make sure I could lip-read that person too. The actual driving test went really well and I’m happy to say that I passed first time round! The examiner kept her instructions short and used her hands as visual cues to pull over if she needed to talk to me.”

Billy: “During my test the examiner was hearing and didn't know any sign language. My instructor spoke to the examiner immediately before my test and explained what help I needed and what she could do to make sure I understood what she wanted me to do.”

Enjoy it!

Remind your teen to make the most of their lessons! They are a big step towards independence and can offer them a taste of freedom that they haven’t had before.

Megan: “I enjoyed learning to drive and learning new things.”

Billy: “Deaf people are perfectly capable of driving just as well as hearing people but they do need some help. I’m now the proud owner of a Vauxhall and I love getting behind the wheel.”

“Everyone communicates differently so it’s important to establish the best methods of communication for you with your instructor from the start.” Check out Jodie’s story and how she worked with her driving instructor to make sure her lessons were accessible.