A Back Handed Compliment…

back handed compliment

In this week’s article, Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI tells the story of how, by breaking down boundaries and barriers, driving instruction can be such a rewarding job…

Many years ago, I had an email from a guy who asked if he could meet me to discuss driving lessons. He explained that his reason for wanting to meet me was that he was profoundly deaf. Now, I had some experience in a former life helping profoundly deaf people and I’d also been teaching some other people who were hard of hearing, so I agreed to meet.

My philosophy has always been to say yes now and find out how later.

Driving lesson
The man explained to me that he was profoundly deaf

I met this guy in a café near Exeter Train Station and well, he had the loudest shirt on I have ever seen (with bright yellow with parrots on, I think.) He told me how he had never driven, but wanted to learn. The man was around 30 years old and worked as Assistant Governor for Exeter Prison (this would prove very interesting later on) and had he recently had a cochlear implant fitted which he was trying to get used to. He presented a device to me that I would wear around my neck called a ‘communicator.’ This was one half of a gadget we would use to communicate with each other, the other half of which he wore the around his neck. With the help of this device, his voice was clear and understandable, and we agreed the lessons. We would always initially meet in the café to discuss the lesson beforehand and we would finish there too for a debrief.

And so the lessons started. Slow progress was made at first and while things did started to pick up, he struggled with any routines. We spoke about this and he told me he would aim to sort it before the next lesson.

The next lesson came and his routines were perfect. When I asked him what had happened, he told me that he had been repeating the routine everywhere he walked “Mirror, signal, position, speed and look.” If he turned right or left or if he had to stop, he would repeat this. Even if he had to pass another pedestrian, he would use this routine in his head to check the appropriate mirrors etc. I saw it as fantastic progress. We continued with lessons making a lot more progress.

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We got to know each other quite well and he would talk about his work. One day, I asked him how his hearing affected his role, as I’m sure prisoners are not the most forgiving. It turned out that this hearing was in his favour in the prison. When he went in to clam a situation, people would speak slower and clearer for him, subsequently calm down. He held out his arms to me and asked “would you argue with me?” He was a particularly large guy. His sense of humour was very dry, and he used it a lot.

After not too long, we dispensed with the communicator as we found simple sign language in the car and lip reading to be more effective. As he had several, I kept the communicator transmitter in the car glove box after the lesson ready for the next week. During my next lesson that day, my phone kept ringing. (It’s important here to note that my phone would only ever be on vibrate during lessons and I would not answer it.) However, it kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I asked the pupil to pull over and I looked at my phone screen to find I had 20 missed calls and at least that many text messages asking me to turn the communicator off as my deaf pupil from earlier in the day was in a meeting and could hear everything going on in the car! I had forgotten to switch it off and was still within range of his receiver…oops!

Very near his test, I complemented him on how well his driving was and how he will easily pass his driving test. He said to me “It’s because I have a very professional and great teacher.” Just as I almost felt a tear coming, he added “and he’s cheaper than you.” Yes, more of that very dry humour (I think).

He passed his test first time and will always be a great memory. I liked all my students, but some just have that special place in your memory, and he was certainly one. He learnt to drive but I learnt a whole lot more.

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