SINGAPORE: Ride-hailing service Uber on Monday (Sep 26) rolled out new features in its app that help the hearing-impaired work as drivers.
Uber said it currently has 20 hearing-impaired drivers in Singapore and plans to recruit more.
Dubbed Project Beethoven after the composer who lost his hearing, the features include prompts that alert passengers that their driver is hard of hearing. Passengers are directed to send text messages to their drivers, instead of calling them to give instructions. Drivers on their part are alerted of new trip requests through flashing lights on their app.
Passengers will also need to key in their destinations for the driver to input into the system.
"We ensure a safe experience by forcing the drivers to enter the destination before every trip. This way, the driver knows exactly where to go, because the GPS through the phone directs the driver to the destination," said Mr Warren Tseng, general manager of Uber Singapore.
Drivers who are hard of hearing will be able to turn the feature on when they sign up with Uber.
Hearing-impaired drivers have to meet the basic requirements for driving licenses, and cannot be completely deaf: They must be able to hear about 50 decibels - about the equivalent of a normal conversation at home.
At the launch of Uber's new features, Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Mr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said: "Persons with disabilities are also potential consumers and providers of services. Therefore it is important, when organisations plan and introduce new solutions, they also take on a universal design approach. This will benefit everyone, including persons with disabilities."
"These accommodations will greatly help drivers who are hearing-impaired to serve their customers. A simple prompt to inform the passenger about the driver will help improve comfort levels and avoid misunderstandings."
One such hearing-impaired Uber driver, Roland Goh, said that even with the new features, he still faces some challenges communicating with passengers.
"The people may sometimes use gestures, and they may sometimes write," he said through an interpreter. "It's still not enough because I'm driving and it's difficult for me to look at them. So let's say if we stop at a traffic light, I may still engage in a short conversation with them just to find out the direction that they'd like to take."
Uber says it is planning to recruit more hearing-impaired drivers, and will work with organisations like Singapore Association For The Deaf and SG Enable to do so.