You might remember talented sport star Jodie Ounsley. The 18-year-old British rugby player is not only causing a sensation on the pitch, but is also now getting behind the wheels of her first car.
In this post, Jodie tells us what it’s like learning to drive with a cochlear implant, and how the Roger Pen has helped her in lessons.
My name is Jodie Ounsley. I’m an 18-year-old deaf athlete from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, England. I live on a college campus at Loughborough, training full time as a rugby player. In my spare time I like hanging out with my team mates.
Wanting To Drive
I applied for my driving licence as soon as I was 17. For the past couple of years I’ve lived on campus at Loughborough University, taking part in an elite sports program. It’s about 100 miles from my family home.
I have to travel quite a lot for games, training, national team commitments, elite pathway camps, and also home to see my family. These are often not the sort of journeys you can do very easily by public transport. I usually have to get lifts everywhere and I decided life would be easier if I could drive myself.
Choosing An Instructor
I didn’t actually start driving until I was over 18. If I’m honest, I was a little anxious about driving and put it off for a while. My main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to hear the instructor. I support my hearing with lip reading and knew I could not look at his face whilst driving. The road and engine noise also adds to my difficulty with hearing people in a car.
I chose a driving instructor my friend had used, who I thought would be patient and sympathetic. My dad initially explained about my hearing and how best to communicate with me, for example that it was better to give long instructions face to face whilst stationary. We also explained I would be using a Roger Pen to assist with communication. My instructor was happy to help in these ways.
Passing The Theory Test
In the UK, you have to pass a driving theory test before you’re allowed to take the practical exam. Before the theory test I bought an app from the DVLA. I crammed my study for a week and passed—the app helped a lot!
At the theory test centre they did offer to make some adjustments. I took a family member to help me with any communication issues in the explanation phase. It wasn’t a problem, the arrival room was set up well for me to lip read and listen to instructions. They permitted me to take spare processor batteries into the test room but my mobile phone had to be locked away.
The test was very deaf friendly, just reading multiple choice questions and then a series of video clips to identify hazards. It was all visual with no listening required.
Learning To Drive
During my driving lessons, I use a Roger Pen and a small receiver which attaches to my processor just like a battery pack. It is really easy and quick to set up. I just have to make sure it is charged before my lesson.
I don’t know how I would cope without the Roger Pen. My instructor wears the Pen around his neck and it acts as a microphone. His speech is transferred directly into my processor so I can hear him really clearly.
The sound is different to someone’s voice. It sounds more electronic, but it is loud and clear. It is great for my confidence because I can concentrate on the car controls and road ahead instead of trying to glance across to lip read. Using the Roger Pen is much safer than lip reading to support my hearing.
If I just had to rely on my processor and lip reading it would be hard to cut out the background noise. The Roger Pen transfers his voice straight to me and the background noise isn’t a problem at all.
I think the Roger Pen has taken some pressure off my instructor also. He was a little worried about having good communication. The Pen enables him to get clear instructions straight to my processor without needing to stop the car all the time.
The Roger Pen helps me a lot with the communication side of things, however my poor hearing does impact in other ways. At the beginning, my instructor kept asking, “Can you hear the engine revs, can you hear the clutch biting?” but I couldn’t. The engine was fairly quiet so this made it harder for me to start the car and know when to change gear.
But I’ve loved learning a new skill! I’m still learning, my target is to pass my test by the time I move to London at the end of the summer. Once I’ve passed it will give me a great deal of independence and freedom.
If you have an audio processor or hearing aids compatible with a Roger Pen then I would definitely say use one. It has taken away a lot of my stress and anxiety around communication. This was my major worry prior to driving, that I wouldn’t be able to follow instructions. The Roger Pen solved that for me.
Choose an instructor based on recommendations and discuss communication options and see how they react and assess whether they will be adaptable to what you need. If they are not, then find another instructor!
Good luck with the driving test, Jodie!
Interested in reading more about driving with a CI? Check out our Driving Tips for Cochlear Implant Recipients!
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