• At the age of 67, retiree Lawrence Gordon, who is deaf in one ear, is getting behind the Uber wheel to keep active. (Supplied, AAP)Source: Supplied, AAP
The ride-sharing app has updated to enable hard-of-hearing Aussies the chance to get behind the wheel.
By
Kimberly Gillan

14 Feb 2017 - 5:03 PM  UPDATED 14 Feb 2017 - 5:05 PM

Since Lawrence Gordon, 67, retired from work two years ago, he's been determined not to get bored. So when a relative told him about becoming an Uber driver, Gordon looked into it. "I thought it sounded like something interesting to do to keep active – and if there is some money to be had, even better!" he tells SBS Life.

Like one in six Australians who suffer some degree of hearing loss – and one in two over the age of 60 – Gordon is deaf in one ear. But where hearing impairment may once have been a barrier to entering some parts of the workforce, Uber have updated their apps to make driving a dream for those with hearing problems who want to earn some extra cash.

"We introduced app updates designed specifically for deaf and hard-of-hearing passengers," Mike Abbott, Uber ANZ General Manager of Operations tells SBS. "This includes notifying riders that their driver is deaf or hard-of-hearing when they request a ride, allowing riders to contact their driver only via text message rather than phone call and instead of emitting sounds, the app flashes to alert the driver to updates."

"In an era where the cost of living is rising, ridesharing gives deaf and hard-of-hearing partners an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family..."

Gordon's just waiting on final approval from the Roads and Maritime Service to hit the road, and is hoping he'll be ready to log on in the next couple of weeks and see who wants a ride.

"I've heard about drivers offering water bottles and things like that to customers but I think politeness and efficiency is the most important thing," he says. "I'm looking forward to it – I'm hoping it will be interesting and add another nuance to my life. It will be great to be out in the 'real world' and be of assistance where possible."

The 2008 Victorian deaf education review found that about 35 percent of deaf people are at or below the poverty line compared to 10 percent of the general population. "Ridesharing offers those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing a new way to work, on their own terms, and in doing so boosts the incomes of people who need it most," Abbott says.

This includes notifying riders that their driver is deaf or hard-of-hearing when they request a ride, allowing riders to contact their driver only via text message rather than phone call and instead of emitting sounds, the app flashes to alert the driver to updates.

So far, Uber says "dozens" of Australians with hearing loss are accessing the Uber platform, presenting an opportunity for the rideshare company to reach a new pool of driving talent that may once have been left out because they couldn't hear customer alerts. "We have also partnered with organisations like Enabled Employment to open up flexible economic opportunities to the 53 percent of disabled Australians who hold a valid driving licence," Abbott adds.

Leonie Jackson, CEO of The Deaf Society is impressed by Uber's commitment to the hard-of-hearing community. "They have also provided Auslan interpreted information sessions and worked with the government to overcome commercial license restrictions for deaf people," she says. "Their tenacity for inclusion is truly admirable."

Hearing-impaired people interested in becoming an Uber driver sign up online then have to get a GP assessment and an audiology report, which can be done for free at Connect Hearing, one of Australia's fastest growing hearing care groups. "In an era where the cost of living is rising, ridesharing gives deaf and hard-of-hearing partners an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family, all with the flexibility to work when, where and how they want," Abbott says.

"Everyone has the right to financial independence and flexible economic opportunities should be made available to all."

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