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June 6, 2005

Licensing hearing impaired falls on deaf ears of authorities

From: Deccan Herald - Bangalore,India - Jun 6, 2005

By Michael Patrao
DH News Service Bangalore:
Official says that consideration could be given to those with hearing ability of 20 to 30 percent.

Krishnadas (62) cannot hear the honking of horns or the purr of an engine. But the retired government employee can certainly ride a two-wheeler - which puts him in a select group of 60 odd hearing impaired Bangaloreans, who drive without licences simply because they are not eligible for a licence.

Krishnadas has been riding a scooter for over 35-years. Kalayan (48), a railway employee has been riding either a scooter or motorcycle for the past 15 to 20 years.

"I have had no problems. Not being able to hear has not affected my ability to ride carefully," the former says, "and my life has been enriched by being able to get myself around without relying on public transportation."

Under the archaic Motor Vehicles Act, hearing impaired citizens are prohibited from obtaining drivers' licences. In a few countries hearing impaired persons are not discriminated against.

However, according to a Government of India notification dated February 10, 2004, "Dumb persons without deafness may be granted a valid driving licence for non-transport vehicle."

Mr C N Vijayraj, who runs a voluntary organisation for the welfare of the hearing impaired, argues that it is very rare for a dumb person to have hearing. The amendment in rules does not really serve the purpose.

In fact, he had taken a batch of 62 hearing impaired persons recently, who are already riding or driving vehicles without a licence, to enable them get a licence. But they were not granted licence either because they cannot hear or are partially hearing impaired.

Mr Vijayraj argues that if people who do not have normal vision can be given licence upon wearing spectacles, why should not the same parameter be applied to those who do not have normal hearing but can hear with the help of hearing aid.

Mr L Krishnamurthy, Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, endorses this view and says that he will write a letter to the Centre to consider giving licences to at least those have a hearing ability of 20 to 30 per cent.

The amendment has been made by bureaucrats who are not technically competent to understand disability issues, he adds.

The issue of whether the deaf (partial or total) can be allowed to drive has been an ongoing debate for quite sometime.

Some have even gone to the extent of saying that it is violation of human rights of the disabled by denying them the right to hold driver's licence.

Mr Vijayraj says that the argument that the ordinary motorists who can hear, obey the audible signals which the deaf cannot, does not hold water. The deaf are good drivers and tend to be more careful and use their rear-view mirrors more often, he adds.

He points out that a considerable number of drivers who can hear routinely tend to close their windows when the air-conditioning system is on. In doing so, they effectively mask any auditory clues, increasing the risk greatly.

Further CD players, cassette decks, mobile radios and cellular phones are distractions which are not available to hearing impaired persons and they tend to concentrate better when behind the wheel.

Deaf drivers are already skilled in compensating for their hearing loss at all times by an extremely efficient visual alertness that have developed over years of practice. Should they continue to ride or drive without a licence ?

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