Bias, accessibility issues among key barriers facing India’s deaf community in getting driving license, finds study
India’s deaf and hard of hearing community continue to face many barriers in getting driving licenses despite court orders and government notifications declaring that deaf people are fit to drive. A survey by Ola Mobility Institute and V-shesh across three cities underlines some of the main challenges faced as well as solutions.
Vidya Menon, a Chennai resident, has been certified fit to drive by road transport authorities in Australia. Back in India her driving license applications are persistently rejected.
“It was easy to get a driving license in Australia”, says Vidya, who is deaf and is a Special Educator and Lead Trainer for Deaf Learners at V-shesh, the impact enterprise that works to empower people with disabilities.
“There were no separate rules for Deaf people in Australia”, says Vidya. “All they expected was for me to follow traffic rules, mirrors, and be aware of these surroundings. Here, I tried to apply three times even with hearing aids but was rejected by medical officers and audiologists at the government hospital in Coimbatore”.
Deaf people eligible to drive
In 2016, after the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi stated that “Driving is primarily a visual function with little inputs from hearing”, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) directed all RTOs to consider applications for driving licenses.
There are many research studies to support the fact that loss of hearing does not impact the ability to drive. One from the United Kingdom (UK) shows that deaf people have a quicker peripheral visual response time as compared to hearing people. Japan, United States, UK, Germany, France and Australia allow deaf people who don’t have other disabilities to get a license to drive.
In India, on the ground, the medical reports and government/court orders count for little. An online survey by the Ola Mobility Institute (OMI) and V-shesh highlights the many substantial barriers that India’s over seven million deaf community face.
The survey was conducted across Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. “We chose these three cities because they have a substantial deaf population”, explains Apoorv Kulkarni, Associate Director, OMI. “These are also bellwether states as everyone looks at them for inspiration. They have the ability to influence other states to follow suit”.
Key findings of survey
- Of the 76 respondents, only 62% were able to even submit an application for a Learner’s Licence (LL). The main reasons for not submitting are fear of rejection by the RTO due to hearing loss, discouragement from friends/family. The insistence by some RTOs that applications be submitted from home-towns do not help either.
- Success rate for getting a LL is 72%. For Permanent Licence (PL) it was 56%. Compare this with 75% for LL and 90% for PL in Mumbai.
Some of the main reasons for the low success rate include a potential bias against the deaf community and accessibility issues including communication barriers.
The reasons for people dropping off are different at each stage. They range from whether one should even apply to fear of rejection and this leads to demotivation. Family/friends, often well-intentioned, discourage them as well. There is also lack of awareness at RTOs when it comes to supporting deaf applicants. RTO officials don’t know how to communicate in Indian sign language. – Apoorv Kulkarni, Associate Director, Ola Mobility Institute
The survey makes recommendations to help overcome these barriers and points to various technology solutions to help overcome them.
- Conduct an audit of the DL application process to identify inaccessibilities and adapt for the deaf community. One immediate step is an online platform to connect with a sign language interpreter to enable interaction between deaf applicants and RTO staff.
- Dedicated driving schools for deaf people or create app-based/online content on driving lessons in sign language.
- Encourage automobile manufacturers to adopt Universal Design practices and integrate technologies.
- Allow waiver of GST on vehicles fitted with assistive tools and technologies to make them more affordable.
- Automobile companies should be encouraged to provide a special discount on such vehicles.
- Awareness campaigns to train and sensitise RTO officers and doctors to support members of the deaf community who wish to get a DL. Similar deaf individuals and their families should be sensitised.
Vidya hopes the study will help create public awareness and highlight the discrimination faced by the deaf community. “We face many challenges in getting a driving license because the RTO expects us to hear some sounds from the surroundings when we can all can drive with our eyes and check mirrors. Laws have been passed by the courts and yet RTOs are unaware”.
The findings of the survey have been shared with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). “Our hope is that the community sees some value in the suggestions made, data points introduced and the technology solutions spoken of. This could be useful when various Deaf groups have discussions with the stakeholders”, adds Apoorv.
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