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August 20, 2005

Deaf too want driving license

From: Kathmandu Post, Nepal - Aug 20, 2005


KATHMANDU, Aug 20 - Upendra Khanal, 24, from Kathmandu, wants to obtain a driving license. He is physically fit, his eyesight is perfect and he has not contracted any disease that could disqualify him from acquiring a license. However, he is hearing-impaired, and as per government rules, is not eligible to obtain a driving license.

Now consider this: dozens of others like Khanal have obtained license from different zonal transport offices, and are currently driving various types of vehicles. Khanal claims that there are at least 60 hearing-impaired people in the country who have driving licenses and are driving two- or four-wheelers without any problems.

However, if we look at the legal provision, a person who cannot hear sound and voice signals is not eligible for such licenses.

If this is the rule, how did they obtain a license? If a handful of people, with similar conditions like Khanal, can get a driving license, why is the government discriminating against the majority of hearing-impaired people.?

"I could have easily bribed officials at the transport management office or used influence, like my friends did, to get a license. But I want it done through proper channels," Khanal, who can ably drive most two and four-wheelers, told the Post.

He, however, conceded that it's not an easy task. "I and some colleagues from Nepal National Federation of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have been making rounds of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare for seven months (for facilitating the license obtaining process), but to no avail," Khanal said. "We have recently approached Ministry of Labor and Transport Management. Let's see how they respond."

A visibly distressed Khanal said that the government does not want to buy their argument that deaf people are capable of driving vehicles as any normal person. "We have been trying to convince them that because we are deaf we are more careful on the street than the average people," he claimed. "And as vehicles have rear view mirrors, we can make use of them to prevent accidents."

However, Director of Department of Transport Management, Sharad Adhikari said that the department, at present, has not thought of making any amendment in the law. "Traffic management system in Nepal is not developed as in the US and Europe. Traffic policemen here, even in most parts of Kathmandu, use whistles to control the traffic. This means a person who cannot hear won't understand traffic signals and may cause accidents," he said, without subscribing to what Khanal said about obtaining licenses through illegal channels.

Even if we look at the laws in some of the developed countries, they do not bar deaf or hearing-impaired persons from obtaining a driving license.

For instance, the United Kingdom issues driving permit to any person who can communicate by speech or by using a device such as minicom, in the event of emergency. Whereas the deaf in the United States drive by affixing a special plate on their vehicles which denotes that they are deaf, while Thailand and other European countries have made special provisions in laws to allow deaf people to drive.

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