On a clear day in February of 2018, after a month long bout of bronchitis that I swore would end up killing me, I decided I wanted to go out for lunch, and to “Roll Up The Rim To Win” at my local Tim Horton’s. There were still some snowbanks piled up at the bus stop, and after a month in bed coughing, I really didn’t feel like walking too far. I thought of calling a cab, but decided to try this new thing called “Uber,” of which my friends spoke highly. I downloaded the app, went to the lobby of my apartment building, and requested a ride.

A message came across my screen saying the following,

“Your driver is deaf, or hard of hearing.”

My first thought was how interesting this was going to be since I’m legally blind, and have no clue where I’m going, and how was I going to communicate with the driver? That worry disappeared when I realized they all have GPS in their cars, and as long as he knew where to go, he’d get me there. I was unsure of the exact address of the Tim Horton’s, so I loaded what I thought was the nearest one into the app, and away we went.

Would you believe I loaded the wrong one?

We ended up at the little one-table drive-thru at the corner of Gordon and Wellington; the one that has to keep it’s bathroom locked so people don’t overdose in there. I really didn’t feel up to spending a leisurely afternoon in there. I used to live in that neighbourhood, and you’d be amazed at the crazy crap that goes on that close to the police station.

It didn’t take me long to remember that the driver couldn’t hear me, when I told him we were at the wrong place, and I needed a way to convey to him that while I knew where I wanted to go, I didn’t have a single clue how to give him directions.

I started typing on my phone screen, and not wanting to touch him, as I’m a firm believer in personal space, I tapped the right side of the steering wheel with one finger. He felt the vibration, and while we were still stopped, turned to face me. I held up my screen, and he read what I had typed. I handed him my phone, and he typed something underneath, and handed it back. This went on for about five minutes, until he realized where I wanted to go. I also stated that I’d pay for a new ride to get there, plus the one we just did, since this was my mistake.

I was unfamiliar with the Uber app, and had clicked the wrong location.

A few minutes later we were on the road again, and before long I was drinking one delicious cup of black coffee after another, and winning free food and drinks, along the way. A message came up on my screen asking how I liked my driver and my experience, and whether or not I wanted to leave a tip. I left him a tip, and I also complimented him on his ability to work with visually impaired riders.

Fast forward to Wednesday October 2nd, 2019. I was watching CTV news at 6, and a disturbing story came up. It seems a deaf Hamilton woman named Danna Morales, age 26, was given less than professional service at a Tim Horton’s drive-thru when she tried to use her phone screen to type a message to the cashier, because speaking wasn’t a good option. While it is true that many deaf people can speak perfectly, those who were born deaf, or became profoundly deaf at a young age will speak differently, because they are unable to learn to speak based on what they hear. It is the same with legally blind people like me, with body language.

I don’t always know when to smile, and some accuse me of having a blank look on my face that scares them. People who are missing a sense are going to learn differently. I do not know Ms. Morales, but in the case of my Uber driver, i could tell he was born profoundly deaf, simply by the way he spoke. I could understand him perfectly, but others may not be able to. This is one reason why some profoundly deaf people do not wish to speak at drive-thrus.

In the case of Ms. Morales, she typed out her order on her iPhone screen, and after some fuss the staff reluctantly decided to process it. Unfortunately she was not given all of the items for which she paid, and when she tried to convey this message by typing it out on her phone, there was some fuss. There were complaints from staff and a few customers of a hold-up in the line, and the staff member inside the drive through tried to tell her she had to go inside, to get it cleared up. The incident was documented on the cell phone of Ms. Morales’ partner Francis Mena, who sat next to Morales, in the passenger seat. The resulting video shows the Tim Horton’s employee refusing to look at Ms. Morales’ iPhone screen.

I find this ironic for a number of reasons. First off, my readers will notice that my points are geared more towards the visually impaired, as i write what I know. I’ve wanted to tackle more issues that affect the hearing impaired, but until I read this story, I never really knew where to start. After all, for me hearing is everything, and for the deaf and hearing impaired vision might be everything. How am I supposed to write about visual solutions that i may not yet understand? The story of Ms. Morales gave me exactly what I needed to advocate on behalf of the deaf. Not only was her solution extremely logical and the behaviour of the Tim Horton’s employee ignorant and short-sighted, her solution paralleled my own, when the deaf Uber driver and I got lost. He didn’t get us lost, I, his legally blind passenger, got us lost. I also managed to come up with a situation that accommodated both of our challenges. If I were completely blind, I’d have used a feature that would have allowed my phone to talk to me, and I’d have still been able to understand typing. If the blind and the deaf can communicate in an Uber that went the wrong way, why doesn’t the same work at drive-thrus?

As for the incident with Ms. Morales, she was told she’d have to go in to be served, because she was unable to talk. What? She felt discriminated against, because the employee wouldn’t even look at her screen.

In a way I find this ironic. Because of all the visuals around me that I can’t see, I’ve been discriminated against on all kinds of occasions. It made me wonder, how in a world that I interpret as being too visual for man, a person with good enough eyesight to work at Tim Horton’s, wouldn’t look at a screen. If they can see those cash registers, they can see an iPhone screen in a drive-thru. The world needs to understand that we are not always visual when we’re “supposed” to be visual, and we can’t always talk when we’re “supposed” to talk. It occurred to me that an order could have been placed in advance using an app, but there would still need to be some communication at the point of pick up. Also, I once heard of a case where someone was ticketed for using their smartphone in their car. How are we supposed to pre-order in the drive-thru line using the app, if we are not allowed to look at our screens? it’s not like we’re texting and driving.

The line probably wasn’t even moving.

Had I given him a correct address, I’m confident that my deaf Uber Driver could have driven me all the way to Thunder Bay, if I’d have asked. I’m sure we’d have stopped at several drive-thrus along the way.

Some may ask why a partner or hearing passenger doesn’t just place drive-thru orders. There are two reasons for that. First off, what if the deaf driver happens to be driving alone? I personally hate receiving gender or disability-related help from strangers, because i do not need it. Also, if I get used to everyone helping me, what am I supposed to do when I am alone? I like to keep it consistent. If I need help, I’ll darn well ask for it. My second reason for not suggesting the hearing unimpaired partner place the order is that this should not have to happen. Those of us with disabilities, or challenges as I prefer to say when referring to myself, shouldn’t need to rely on the unimpaired because it’s more convenient for the others who are unimpaired. It is this mindset that makes people with challenges and disabilities rather annoyed with the “abled” world, and even resent it at times. I will admit coming home some nights and saying “I’m glad I’m not ‘able.’ I’d rather have the knowledge I’ve gained from being me.” After 37 years, I have earned a Ph.D in the field of being Leah Mary Allan Christensen. Rather than using any resulting frustration to lash out at the world, I decided to start writing these columns instead. I have received e-mails and Face Book friend requests from people who have read them. I recently received one from a hearing impaired woman, and I stated the fact that i wanted to write more columns that were relatable to the hearing impaired, but I had no idea where to start. Ms. Morales’ story gave me that opportunity. I hope that those who have read her story will see her innovative solution, and will be more open to suggestions from the disabled in the future. I hope those reading my column will better understand that two contrasting disabilities can still work together. As long as there is literacy, and as long as there are machines that talk, or have screens to which we can get extremely close, the blind and the deaf will not be isolated from each other. I was blessed with a “give-em-heck” attitude, and I want to use that attitude to make sure that those who may be too shy to speak up, will still be heard.

I’m also blessed to have a husband, himself going blind, who believes in me when I do that. When a relative suggested I needed to tone it down a bit (I believe the term she used was “attitude adjustment.”) my husband said “good idea! I’m sending her to Newark NJ alone for a week. When she comes back her voice will be even louder!”

People, if deaf person hands to a smartphone, or a blind person uses words instead of just pointing, we are trying to accommodate you as much as your willingness to receive the message is an accommodating to us. We are building a bridge from our end. Will you accept that bridge and complete it at your end?

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