Deaf Driver, Blind Passenger

The other day I tapped my Uber app from the dentist’s office to request a ride home. The voice on my iPhone told me that my Uber driver would be arriving in 4 minutes and also that he was deaf or hard of hearing. I thought, “Hmm…this will be interesting. Deaf driver, blind passenger.”

I experienced a pang of ‘ableism,’ which is like racism, but is discrimination against disabled people instead of ethnic minorities.

Deaf people drive? Sure, why not? It’s like when people are surprised to find out that I cook even though I’m blind. I had prejudged someone with a disability – and a member of my very own tribe no less. I had judged someone as quickly as I, a blind person, had been judged by so many others in the past.

When meeting a person with a disability, our mind tends to knee-jerk and think about what the disabled person can’t do, rather than what they can do.

I settled down and got curious on how this would unfold.

It was at that point that my thoughts got practical and I remembered that GPS isn’t accurate in my neighborhood. I live in a gated community which has only one entrance. As you approach my home, GPS indicates a different way in – Hedge Drive – as the street to turn onto from the main road in order to arrive at my street. It’s not. It leads into the parking lot of a strip mall which has no access into the community.

Whenever I’m riding home, I tell my Uber drivers to avoid Hedge Drive and to go just a little further to the gate entrance.

So, how was I to communicate this to my deaf driver when we approached my neighborhood?

Sometimes you don’t have all the answers up front and you gotta have some faith or confidence that a solution will present itself as a situation evolves. Besides, what good is an adventure if you know the outcome beforehand?

The dental receptionist led me out to the Uber car, I got in and we were off. I tapped the Google Maps app so I could follow the progress of the trip. I noticed that my driver was taking an odd route to my home, and as it turned out, he actually arrived on the one road outside my community that leads right to the security gate. Wow! No sweat. No drama.

A twist in the plot.

We reached the traffic light at the main road where all he had to do was go straight across it and pull up to security. Suddenly he turned right. Yikes! GPS was directing him to Hedge Drive.

I felt him turn into the strip mall parking lot and I couldn’t tell him not to. He began to get agitated. Then he stopped the car and I heard him tapping on his phone. Unexpectedly, I heard a “ding” on my iPhone – it was a text message which said, “I can’t find it. Where do I go?” Voilà! Communication.

We exchanged a few texts – he read mine, I listened to his – and we landed at my building. He guided me to my door, I stuck out my hand, he took it and covered it with his other hand, and we had a moment for the ages: blind dude connects with deaf dude.

Better living through tech.

Speaking of which, tech has helped me to become a better chef. I now use a digital grill to tell me when my food is done. I used to rely on my smoke detector to alert me when my fish filet was fully cooked.

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude