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July 21, 2004

Hear This: Deaf Drivers To Get Better Test-Taking Method

From: WHNT, AL - Jul 21, 2004

Jeff Butera Reports, 7/21/04

Glenda Cain knows plenty of deaf people. And the regional director at Alabama's Institute of the Deaf and Blind says hearing-impaired people don't have a problem driving. However, they do have a problem getting their license.

The problem getting the license is a product of how the test is given. As it is now, deaf people don't take the test like normal-hearing people -- answering questions on a computer at their own pace.

Instead, they watch the questions on a video monitor. They have to read the question and answer it before the screen changes.

The problem with that, is that deaf people are used to getting instructions from an interpreter sitting in the passenger's seat. The instructor uses sign language to convey their directions. On the test, deaf people have to read the questions. And going from reading sign language to reading English is like translating a foreign language.

"You go to take your test and you're supposed to take it in a different language in essence," Cain says, "and that could mean the language is unfamiliar to them and cause them to make wrong choices."

Alabama officials think they've made the right choice. The state in the first in the nation to offer computerized drivers license tests for deaf people. The tests are very similar to the ones that normal-hearing people take. Applicants take the test on a computer, answering questions at their own pace on the computer. The new feature, though, is that the computer translates the questions into sign language.

"I know the deaf community is going to be very proud because they feel like the state is acknowledging who they are and their communication needs," Cain says.

The machines premiered in Birmingham yesterday. They'll be seen throughout the state -- including in Huntsville and Sheffield -- soon.

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