An ASL conversation about driving
Over 250 Seattle drivers self-identify as Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. Driver-partners Stephen Pfeiffer and Peter Joseph stopped by Uber’s Seattle office to share thoughts about traffic and what’s it’s like communicating with hearing riders in American Sign Language.
How did you get started driving with Uber?
Stephen: I started driving with Uber while working a day job, for a bit more money on top of what I earn. A friend of mine, who also happens to be Deaf, lives in Los Angeles. He was explaining the company, how it works, and that the app is very Deaf-friendly and accessible for us. I’ve always loved driving. I had experience from way back, when I used to deliver the newspaper. And pizzas.
Peter: I used to deliver for Domino’s and Pizza Hut too! When I’m driving, I never get tired. I’ll stay on the road between four and 12 hours.
Stephen: Actually, I do the same thing. I’m confident in my driving skills, so it’s easy. Of course, the one negative these days is traffic.
Peter: They need to swap cars on the road for flying ones that can land, pick people up, and then take off without the stops or delays.
Has driving changed how you see the city?
Peter: I’ve noticed how the neighborhoods are changing.
Stephen: Driving takes me to places I hadn’t noticed before. There’s a corner of two streets in West Seattle that I had passed by many times but never stopped to look around. I was drpping off a rider there when I noticed the incredible vista.
Are there additional challenges driving as a Deaf person?
Peter: My main concern is for riders at night. I don’t want them to think I’m ignoring them, so I make sure they know I’m Deaf.
What it’s like communicating in ASL?
Stephen: I’ve known signs since starting school when I was three. Then there was a class for Deaf students that I joined. And I had speech therapy classes twice a week, learning how to pronounce things. But when I went to Gallaudet University in D.C., wow. It’s an actual Deaf school. And with everyone there being Deaf, I was part of the mainstream. It was my own place, where everyone communicates like me.
One thing I really love about Seattle is that almost all the high schools provide ASL classes. You find that people here sometimes know a bit of ASL, which is a big help. It’s always memorable when a hearing person knows ASL.
Peter: Tech is getting better at working with Deaf people, too. My device screen flashes to help me notice when a call or update comes in. And the riders’ app notifies them I’m Deaf. I use the notes feature. When someone calls, I put them on speaker and my screen turns their words into text.
Stephen: When I drive, I really want to make sure that riders are happy and satisfied with my service. I know sometimes it’s a little struggle when we don’t understand each other, but I like to figure out what they want or what their concerns are. But occasionally I get a rider who gives me less than five stars. I always wonder about that. If I don’t get any feedback or comments, maybe they’re thinking this Deaf person is stupid? I wish they’d share a bit more information.
Does Seattle have a strong local community of Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing people?
Peter: It depends where you are. Every city is different. On the East Coast, that’s rare.
In Washington, D.C., more than 1,000 drivers have self-identified as Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing.
Stephen: Really? That’s great. The government jobs are all there. They’re happy to have Deaf people working for them.
I know Deaf people here, and in a lot of other cities. I get asked about driving all the time. I’ve explained how it works, how Deaf people can start, things like that. And we chat back and forth, sharing experiences.
We’re grateful to Mary Hould and Topher Wick, who provided live translation.
Special thanks to Purple, a Seattle-based Deaf and HOH translation service.
Photos: David Keller
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