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July 21, 2004

State first to offer computerized driver license tests

From:, AL - Jul 21, 2004

News staff writer

Rann Gordon smiled as state officials explained to him Tuesday how new computerized driver license tests will be given to the hearing-impaired.

Gordon, president of the Alabama Association of the Deaf, signed a question to interpreter Melinda Montgomery: "Do you offer southern language?" Then he laughed.

The demonstration at the driver license office on Bankhead Highway signaled Alabama becoming the first state to offer the computerized tests to the deaf and the hearing-impaired.

"It's kind of scary being first," said Maj. Roscoe Howell, head of the driver license division of the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

The state used to give the driver license test by videotape, with the applicant taking the test on paper.

"It was a bad process," said DPS spokeswoman Martha Earnhardt.

Under the new system, the applicant can have a question repeated or pause the test.

Using the computer screen, a deaf person can toggle between the text version of the test and sign language to answer 30 questions. If an applicant correctly answers 24 questions, he passes. If he misses seven, he fails the test, Earnhardt said.

Public Safety and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services used a $27,000 grant to hire Openshaw Media Group of Cahaba Heights to develop software for the test.

The test done in American Sign Language will join tests given in English and 12 other languages at license centers in Dothan, Hartselle, Huntsville, Jacksonville, Mobile, Montgomery, Opelika, Selma, Sheffield, Sumiton and Tuscaloosa.

At the request of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, three computers for taking the test will be set up in kiosks in Talladega, where the institute is located.

"This new, accessible testing system makes it much easier for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired to more fully participate in community life," said Rehabilitation Services Commissioner Steve Shivers.

Howell said about 100 deaf and hearing-impaired people apply for an Alabama driver license each year.

"It's not a huge number, but it is important that we are mainstreaming them into the system," Howell said. "This service will take our license testing to the next level."

DRS officials estimate that 306,000 of the state's 4.5 million people are deaf or hearing-impaired.

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