Deaf Grab drivers: ‘They can do everything but hear’


SINGAPORE — Like many other private-hire car drivers in Singapore, Steven Chong spends long hours on the road.

For five days a week, the 41-year-old wakes up at 6.30 am and starts driving half an hour later, picking up passengers until about 1 pm.

He then takes a break for an hour or two for lunch and to meet friends before continuing to drive, ending his day between 8 pm and 10 pm.

However, Mr Chong is not like most of the more than 41,000 people here who hold a private hire car driver’s Vocational Licence (PDVL). He is hard of hearing.

The private-hire car driver of three years has a hearing loss of 50 decibels – or about the loudness of a normal conversation.

He is one of about 30 to 40 Grab drivers here who are deaf or hard of hearing, said the company’s Singapore head Yee Wee Tang, who adds the firm also has about 10 to 15 delivery riders who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In September, the Singapore-based ride-hailing firm signed an agreement with The Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf), with the aim of promoting deaf awareness as well as making the Grab platform more inclusive for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

As part of this initiative – part of its Grab for Good social responsibility programme – the company introduced a scheme that halves the commission it collects from existing and new drivers who are also SADeaf beneficiaries. Drivers typically pay Grab a commission of about 20 per cent of the fares they collect.

On its part, SADeaf will provide skills upgrading programmes for deaf Grab drivers and delivery riders.

The Grab app will notify passengers that their driver is deaf.

They are advised to use the chat feature in the app to communicate, and the call function is turned off to prevent them from calling their drivers.

A sticker in the vehicle helps inform passengers how they should communicate with their drivers, while flip-cards indicating common requests – such as directions, adjusting the temperature of the air-conditioning and where to drop off  – are provided to help in communications between drivers and passengers.
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