Seoul is getting its First Batch of Deaf Drivers

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Deaf people in Korea can get a driver’s license if they can hear sounds louder than 55 decibels like sirens and car horns, according to the traffic law. But when it comes to taxi drivers, passengers may feel uncomfortable communicating with the driver. However, Seoul put its first deaf taxi drivers on the road this week, by taking advantage of communication-aiding technology.

On Monday, two deaf drivers started ferrying passengers around Seoul using a special communication app developed by a local startup.

Two tablet PCs – one installed facing the back seat and the other next to the driver – act as the primary communication medium throughout the ride. Passengers convey their destinations by speaking, writing or typing into the screen.

As the taxi nears its destination, an automatic message pops up, asking the passenger to specify a drop-off point and method of payment.

The tablets run on an app called “Goyohan Taxi,” or “Silent Taxi” in Korean, developed by a university students-led startup named Coactus. The app was partly inspired by similar projects by Uber to aid drivers who are hard of hearing.

Applying the app to Seoul required more complex coordination. Over several months, Coactus made a three-way partnership between the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the KAD to train and find cabbie jobs for the hearing-impaired.

Many local taxi companies, however, rejected job applications from drivers with hearing loss, saying the lack of verbal skills was an “insurmountable” problem. Luckily, Shinshin, a local cab company in Seoul, evaluated the project positively and agreed to take part.

Coactus plans to expand its “Silent Taxi” app service from here, starting with its first big-scale project that could create around 50 taxi-driving jobs for the hard of hearing in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province.

By Lee Suh-Yoon (Korea Times)

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