A Conversation With My Deaf Uber Driver
Context: A friend and I usually split an Uber or Lyft from Washington DC to Alexandria VA on Tuesday nights. We requested a driver from Lyft and received the following message:
“Hello! I would like to let you know that I am a deaf driver. Please be sure to enter where you want to go. Text me if you need to reach me in the meantime. Fist Bump!”
Jerry (not real name) was an excellent driver and we used texts and gestures when needed. At the end, I asked if I could email him a few questions to learn more about him and he agreed.
Bryan: Are you from Washington DC?
Jerry: I moved here from Alabama in 1985, to go to school.
Bryan: How long have you been driving?
Jerry: I got a Driver’s license when I was 16 years old. That means I have been driving for 34 years now – but two years as a Lyft driver. I enjoy it very much.
Bryan: Are you happy with the support you’ve received in becoming a driver?
Jerry: I am very happy with the support I received. Being a rideshare diver allows me to have a part time or full time job depending on my needs. I am a good driver and being deaf is not an obstacle for me.
Bryan: Is there anything you would like to let deaf individuals thinking about becoming drivers know?
Jerry: I would encourage other deaf individuals to become drivers. Don’t be intimidated because you are deaf. Just focus on being a good driver.
Bryan: Is there anything you would like to let passengers know?
Jerry: I always let passengers know that I am deaf before I pick them up. Sometimes passengers do not check their phones so they don’t realize that until they get into car. But it is no problem – just enter the address in your phone like usual, and we will be on our way.
Lyft has a reputation for welcoming drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing. According to SF Gate, Lyft actively recruits at DeafNation conferences and arranges get-togethers with deaf drivers and deaf individuals considering the possibility of becoming a driver. Check out this DeafNation video about Deaf Lyft Drivers. New York Times has got to be the most difficult city in the United States for driving – but deaf drivers have been doing it well. Here is an article in the New York Times about Pin Lu, one of New York City’s first deaf Uber drivers and another from Narrative.ly about Yuriy Grinman, who has driven for both Uber and Lift. Last year, Uber added useful features for deaf drivers – a flashing light in addition to audio notification for new trip requests and automatic notifications for passengers that their driver is deaf or hard of hearing plus a reminder to enter their destination.
Uber also recently announced a partnership with Communication Service for the Deaf, an international non-profit organization, to make additional changes to support drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Both Uber and Lyft need more drivers in order to expand. Passengers like me need drivers to avoid riding Washington DC’s unreliable and highly flammable metro system. Deaf drivers benefit from having flexible work with companies that, with a few small tweaks, have been able to make driving an appealing livelihood. While this was my first ride with a deaf driver, I hope there will be more to come in the future. If so, I’m going to learn a little bit of American Sign Language. Please share your thoughts through email or Twitter @bryan_schaaf.