In a historic first, the U.S. Department of Transportation on February 1 granted applications for commercial driving licenses from 40 drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing, exempting them from hearing requirements that barred similar applicants from qualifying for decades.
The National Association of the Deaf filed a group of exemption applications in July 2011, followed by a second group in February 2012.
Despite conducting a study in 2008 that deaf and hard of hearing individuals with private drivers licenses do not present an increased safety risk, the DOT regulations have previously stood as a complete barrier to entry.
“The hearing standard is the kind of institutionalized discrimination based on stereotyped assumptions, rather than on data or facts, that the NAD has fought to change for many years,” Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the NAD, said in a news release. “The NAD is thrilled that these safe and skilled deaf and hard of hearing drivers can now pursue the career of their choice.”
Since the passage of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1986, people seeking to drive vehicles used to transporting more than 26,001 pounds, 16 or more passengers including the driver, or hazardous materials have been required to obtain a Commercial’s Driver’s License, according to an NAD fact sheet.
Applicants for the license are required “to be able to hear a forced whisper in the better ear at not less than five feet” or “that an applicant does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,00 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid.”
The DOT is currently reviewing a petition from the NAD to completely remove the hearing standard going forward.
“We made history today, and this is a huge victory for all deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States,” NAD President Christopher Wagner said in the news release. “Previously we had to fight to be able to drive cars, and now commercial driver’s licenses are available to deaf and hard of hearing drivers!”