He's deaf and driving for Uber
Private-hire service adds features to existing app to open up employment opportunities
As an UberX driver-partner since March this year, Mr Roland Goh, 45, has made over 2,900 trips, driving between 14 and 16 hours daily and making an average of 30 trips each day.
But he is not your average Uber driver. Mr Goh has been deaf since the age of one after a bout of high fever.
He is among some 20 driver-partners of Uber who have benefitted from its Beethoven programme, which introduces deaf-friendly features to its existing app to allow deaf or hard of hearing drivers to pick up passengers.
The programme, named after composer Ludwig van Beethoven whose hearing deteriorated in his 20s, helps deaf drivers like Mr Goh.
They get special assistance in getting notified of an incoming passenger request by flashing lights in the app, on top of the existing audio notification.
Passengers will also be sent an alert informing them that their driver is deaf. They cannot call these drivers - that option is turned off - but they may send a text message to provide special instructions.
An extra prompt is given to passengers to enter their destination ahead of their trip.
So far, it has been fairly seamless. He even has a high driver rating of more than four stars.
Mr Goh told The New Paper at the launch event of Beethoven on Monday through an interpreter: "Some passengers who are riding with me for the first time are curious and will ask if I can drive (because of my disability) and whether I can hear cars honking.
"I will reassure them and tell them not to worry as I have my hearing aid on. They are usually okay after that and will even compliment me on doing a good job driving them to their destinations."
Mr Goh engages his passengers through gestures, simple sign language or handwritten note exchanges to ease communication between himself and his passengers.
He provides a small clipboard with loose sheets of paper placed in between him and the passenger seat so that passengers can write down instructions.
He also has a sign that reads "Hi, I'm hearing impaired. If (you) need to communicate with me, feel free to use the paper provided. Have a nice trip."
He said: "If they have a ring on their finger, I will gesture and strike a conversation with them about it.
"It's usually about something fun and light-hearted. When they smile, I will also have a smile on my face," said Mr Goh, who drives a white Toyota Sienta.
Previously, Mr Goh was a delivery driver and a chauffeur and he admitted that he faced some "pressure" at times due to miscommunication.
This pressure, he said, was part of the reason he left.
He has not faced discrimination as an UberX driver, but admitted that having patience is a big part of it.
"Sometimes, passengers are in a rush, and sometimes I might have driven them to the wrong destination due to a miscommunication.
"It's part and parcel of the job, I just have to be patient. We both also need mutual respect," he said.
His biggest gripe before this job was the lack of time with his family.
Mr Goh has three daughters, aged between nine and 12 years old. His wife works in a bank.
His job as an UberX driver has given him the flexibility to spend more time with his family and, sometimes, to send his daughters to school.
Now, just to be with them, he does not work on Sundays and some Saturdays.
He also now takes home a higher income of between $3,000 and $4,000.
To share his experiences as a driver partner with Uber, Mr Goh even started a WhatsApp group with other deaf Uber drivers. They occasionally meet up to chat and to exchange tips.
He hopes there can be new app updates to further improve communication between passengers and drivers like him.
"Features like notifications in the form of vibrations on a device connected to our wrists will help us even further. I hope Uber can come up with more features like that," he said.
About Uber's Beethoven programme
Uber launched a pilot of the Beethoven programme in Singapore nine months ago.
The programme introduced features to its existing app that helped deaf or hard-of-hearing drivers to pick up passengers.
"It is difficult for (those who are deaf or hard of hearing) to find equal opportunities for employment or part-time jobs. This motivated our idea of creating our app to make it easier for (them) to have access to earning opportunities," said Uber Singapore general manager Warren Tseng.
The Beethoven update has four key features:
- Flashing notifications in the app to signal a new trip request
- Passengers are given the option to only send a text message to the driver while the option to call is turned off
- Passengers are given an extra prompt to enter their destination ahead of the ride
- Passengers will be informed that their drivers are deaf or hard of hearing and that turn-by-turn directions will be provided when the drivers arrive at the pick-up point
All Uber drivers, deaf or otherwise, must already have valid driving licences, and will go through the same training as other driver partners of the company.
Uber added that it hopes to recruit more deaf or hard-of-hearing driver partners in the future and has plans to roll out new features.
Tips for passengers riding with deaf drivers
1. Try to sit in the passenger seat. This makes you more visible to the driver and aids communication.
2. To communicate, write notes or type on your phone and show it to the driver.
Gestures are also fine. Special instructions are best given to the driver ahead of the journey as far as possible. Otherwise, wait for stops at red light to alert the driver. Keep instructions simple and clear.
3. Learn simple sign language. For example, "yes" is denoted by clenching your hand and bending it at the wrist downwards.
4. Be patient. Refrain from rushing the driver to the destination.