MIAMI – A hearing-impaired man is suing the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for not allowing him to take a test in order to receive a commercial driver's license.
In October, Fred McClain filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Orlando Division. He claims the agency prevented him from obtaining a CDL because of his hearing impairment.
Currently, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has not been given federal guidance on how to test deaf and hearing-impaired individuals when it comes to obtaining a driver's license.
"It's not difficult to do," Matthew Dietz, the attorney representing McClain with the Disability Defense Group, told the Florida Record. "For example, you can use a whiteboard and hand signals, or have an interpreter on-hand. Florida just hasn't yet developed a procedure for testing in cases like this."
McClain claims the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and therefore discriminates against him and other deaf or hearing-impaired individuals.
"Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state and local governments," Dietz said. "When state and local government have a program or service, it has to be open to everyone. Unless there are real risks presented, the service can be open to anybody.”From the ADA website: "Title II applies to state and local government entities, and, in subtitle A, protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by state and local government entities. Title II extends the prohibition on discrimination established by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 794, to all activities of state and local governments regardless of whether these entities receive federal financial assistance."
"The whole purpose of the ADA is to eliminate stereotypes about persons with disabilities, and to say that a person who is deaf is a worse driver than a hearing person is one of those stereotypes," Dietz said. "There is no proof behind the danger of deaf drivers. Deaf people have been driving for years and years.”
McClain's filing states that in March of this year, he was able to obtain a Florida Class A CDL Temporary Permit. Shortly after, McClain says, he was informed of a start date for the Mid Florida Tech Center’s Class A Truck Driving Course and that a sign language interpreter would be provided. McClain states the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation was going to cover the cost of tuition.
According to the complaint, McClain received an email from the tech center's ADA compliance manager that informed him since Florida is unable to test deaf students and since McClain would not be able to obtain a CDL, his tuition would not be paid for.
In 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it would grant hearing exemptions to eligible deaf interstate truckers. McClain received a waiver for exemption in regard to his hearing impairment, but been unable to take the test required for a CDL.