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The Future of Trucking While Deaf

Written by Miranda Pennington

The trucking experts over at CareersInGear.com recently explored the policies and attitudes the hearing trucking world holds towards Deaf or hard of hearing truckers.

It’s not as simple as a question of discrimination based on disability—the physical exam all truckers must pass in order to acquire their CDLs involves a “forced whisper” test and, failing that, an audiometry test, which they can take with or without their hearing aid.

This tests that truckers must be able to:

  • Make a decision based on emergency sounds/sirens
  • Hear sounds of improperly operating mechanics
  • Communicate with other drivers, lumpers, consigners, customers, or trucking scales operators

However, not all trucking environments require a perfect ability to hear. Accommodations available for current Deaf and hard of hearing drivers include assistive mirrors, enhanced visual turn indicators, and visual signals of horns, sirens, or loud noises that can be adjusted when a driver goes through a construction zone or similarly loud environment. Service dogs are also growing in popularity—trained animals can alert drivers to intruders, door bells, knocks, alarms, and phone calls, and signal drivers that other drivers are trying to talk to them.

And what often goes unsaid during discussions of Deaf drivers is that all truckers, regardless of their hearing status when they first climbed into their rig, are losing their hearing during their years on the road. Banning Deaf or hard of hearing drivers from behind the wheel entirely means eventually losing entire generations of experienced, capable drivers!

In 2013, responding to repeated requests from the National Association for the Deaf, more than 100 hours of interviews with deaf/hearing impaired drivers, and reports that Deaf drivers actually have fewer distractions behind the wheel, the DOT granted hearing waivers to 40 Deaf drivers. In the next year or so, these drivers should be reporting back on their experiences and whether their safety ratings are similar to those of hearing drivers. The results should be highly informative to up-and-coming drivers with hearing impairment.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.