News

Deaf need to hear why they can't get general driver's licences

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 25, 2017

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CARLYLE Gabbidon, manager of Deaf Can Coffee, is usually beaming with joy, but today it is the opposite.

This is because Gabbidon, a deaf individual, was recently refused a general driver's licence at the Swallowfield Examination Depot because of his inability to hear.

Blake Widmer, a deaf translator who accompanied Gabbidon for the driving test, told the Jamaica Observer that Gabbidon is the holder of a private driver's licence, but because of the nature of his business his licence has to be upgraded. Widmer added that the examiner at Swallowfield refused to issue the licence, saying that it was against the Road Traffic Act.

“Carlyle uses a bus to transport his equipment to operate his coffee business, Deaf. On the private licence he has white plates, however, he needs to get a green plate for the bus as he is carrying equipment for his business. The police have stopped him and he was told he can't be driving the bus with the equipment on a private licence and needed to get the general licence so he can get the green plates.

“But the examiner insisted that the law says no, yet he can't produce the law. So I don't know if this is the law or it's coming down to the judgement of the examiner,” Widmer said.

He added: “This has nothing to do with his ability to drive. The whole essence of the business Deaf Can! is that deaf people can do things that disability-free people can do. I eventually spoke to a supervisor there and she said we needed to do a yard test and a road test to have the licence upgraded. Carlyle did the yard test and passed. Now we're ready to schedule the road test and we are being told an inspector from the Jamaica Constabulary Force needs to accompany him.

“When he did the private licence he needed no inspector and it seems to be they are pulling stuff out of the hat. We went to a police inspector, they took a number, said they would call and schedule the road test but we are still waiting.”

Widmer suggested that deaf people were being discriminated against and the matter needed to be addressed urgently.

“Being deaf does not limit one's physical capabilities. People feel not being able to hear makes you dangerous and we have to sort out these issues. This is affecting his business, as with the equipment he transports he needs the green plates. As long as deaf people have the ability they should be treated like everyone else,” Widmer said.

He said he was perplexed because he knew of other deaf persons who had the general driver's licence which they acquired in the United States and which is equivalent to the Jamaican general licence.

“These deaf persons use it to drive in Jamaica. So if a US licence is equivalent to a Jamaican general driver's licence, why are we having so many hiccups here?” he questioned.

In 2010, the Government of Jamaica amended the Road traffic Regulation to remove the requirement of a signalling (coping) device on a vehicle being driven by a deaf person. But even with the amendment it was still mandatory for deaf individuals to submit an audiologist's certificate stating the level of hearing disability.

Widmer described this requirement as just as “ridiculous” as wanting a signalling device on the vehicle.

“The real issue is that they think a deaf person is dangerous behind the wheel. But, the fact is they won't be distracted talking on phone. Statistically speaking, their vision is better and they are more focused. They may not be able to hear screeching tyres, but we know that three quarters of the times when you hear screeching tyres it's already too late. This dangerous thing is rubbish, based upon belief and discrimination,” he argued.

Additionally, Widmer said he would love to get verification of the actual law which, upon his request, has not been forthcoming.

“It would be nice to see the regulation. If it does say you can't apply for a general licence, that's just the law and then we would have to advocate for change. But right now we need him to be legal on the road. The police who've stopped him so far have been understanding, but it may not always be the case. The process needs to change for others coming,” he said.

Last week this reporter sent written questions regarding Gabbidon's complaint to the Ministry of Transport and Mining, which oversees the operations of the Island Traffic Authority, but no responses were received at Observer press time.

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