Personal, Post-Surgery

Driving With a Cochlear Implant

deaf driver

Image Credits: Zazzle

For those of you who don’t already know, I am a member of the vast minority of 20-somethings in New Jersey. What do I mean by that? Unlike most 20-something New Jerseyians, I lack possession of a valid driver’s license. Quite frankly, I never had possession of one to begin with.

Not having  driver’s license may not be a big deal in some areas like NYC or Philly, but in South Jersey, it’s crucial. I had intended to get my license many times over the years, it just never quite worked out. I have been renewing my driving permit for about 7 years now. Yet I still have not even come very close to having my actual license.

Driving is hard for me. Harder than it would be for most people. Or I guess I should say it “WAS” hard, not so much anymore. It required a lot of focus. I know that driving always requires you to be focused,but this is especially true when you can’t hear. For the past 24 years of my life lip-reading has been to  me what my hearing aid audiologist, Sherry, refers to as my “crutch”. My hearing was so bad (legally I am deaf),that unless I could see a person and read their lips, I would have no idea what they were saying. This worked fine in most situations. However, trying to lipread while driving is a bit of a disaster.

When you’re learning how to drive you have to rely a lot of others for directions and guidance. In my case those people were my parents. I had to depend on them to have them tell me where to go or how to make a hard turn or parallel park or really do anything at all involving driving. My parents were naturally used to my hearing and knew to talk loudly and clearly for me. However, clarity is something I did not have. I could often times here them, but not always understand them. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if they said “right” or “left” because they sounded the same. You don’t always have time to have people constantly repeat things to you when you are driving. Sometimes, you have to take a guess as to what the words are. If you think you hear “right” when it really should be “left”, sometimes that can cause all kinds of problems which at times can be outright dangerous. This happened more than a few times for me. I would have to guess like that a lot. I had to keep my eyes on the road. I couldn’t use my lipreading crutch because that would cause me to take my eyes off the road to look at a person. It definitely made driving quite a challenge.

I did actually take my driving test once. It did not go well at all. My instructor seemed annoyed by me right from the start. I couldn’t hear her very well when she told me to do things like put my window down or turn wipers on or even unlock the door. My parents could help repeat these things at that part of the test which helped me but seemed to annoy the instructor anymore. I didn’t get very far with my test. I couldn’t parallel park properly and not being able to hear the instructor only made it worst. I think she just kind of got out of the car at the end and that’s how I knew I was out of chances and have failed my test.

In February of this year I renewed my permit for the 50 million time. I just started practicing driving again for the first time in over a year and for the first time since receiving my cochlear implant. I’m amazed by how  much easier driving is now that I have my implant. I don’t have to worry about my hearing. I can hear so well and so clearly. Not being able to read lips while driving is no problem at all because I can hear so well without relying on lipreading. I’ve been doing better than ever with my speed and turns. I even drove a little bit on some small roads with minimal traffic (and at times people and dogs) with no problem. My parking still needs some work…but I am confident I will get there in time.

Getting my license is more important to me now than ever before. I want to be able to drive to work on my own and drive to my boyfriend’s house when he is not home and to be able to take myself places. I will be 25 in less than 2 months and I think having my license, especially at my age, is crucial. My cochlear is giving me a lot more confidence with my driving and I think it’s only a matter of time now when I’ll be ready to re-take my driving test and this time actually pass it and finally earn my license.It’s really amazing to see how big of a difference having my cochlear has made and how much easier driving is now that I have it. It’s truly yet another amazing blessing from God!

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