A deaf partner-driver? Is that even plausible, let alone possible? Farhan Kamarzaman, a partner-driver with Uber Malaysia is living proof that it’s both plausible and absolutely possible. Here he talks to Syaza Diyana about working for Uber while pursuing a degree in computer science and dreaming of setting up a company where everyone speaks in sign language, even those who can hear.
No matter how mindful we are of all the gifts we have, we often take things for granted. We hardly hear the birds singing in the evening and even the majestic sound of thunder often passes unheard in the background.
Now, imagine waking up one day to the sound of silence. What if you were told you were going to become deaf? Would you choose to give up on life or would get going and fight all the harder for your dreams?
Focusing on positivity
For Farhan Kamarzaman who is profoundly deaf, giving up was – and still is never an option. In fact, he is more determined than ever to prove that he is capable of achieving greatness even with his disability.
Being profoundly deaf means that the person can’t hear anything, at all and are unable to detect sounds, even at the highest volume possible. Although Farhan has been deaf since birth, it has not stopped him from living a normal life. He has chosen to focus on ways to improve his way of life by achieving goals and striving to make his dreams a reality.
“My dream is to be the first person to build a company that hires both deaf and hearing workers. What will make this company different is that only sign language is used as a communication tool,” says Farhan.
Farhan is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, specialising in Software Engineering, at Multimedia University, Cyberjaya. As an ambitious person, his need to thrive in life does not end there
While studying, he also juggles work as a freelancing developer/programmer for websites and administration systems. He even participated in the 9th International Abilympics in 2016 that was held in Bordeaux, France. Representing Malaysia in the ‘Creating Web Pages’ category, he proudly brought home a bronze medal. Despite all his achievements, he continues to work towards reaching more of his goals.
When Farhan found out that Uber had introduced a project called the Projek: Bebas Bergerak which has features on their platform to help the hearing impaired become driving-partners, he jumped right onto the bandwagon. He knew that this would be a great opportunity to try something unique, gain valuable experience and learn new skills.
Uber Technologies Inc is an American worldwide online transportation network company headquartered in San Francisco, California. It develops, markets and operates the Uber app, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request, which the software programme then automatically sends to the Uber partner-driver nearest to the consumer, alerting the driver to the location of the customer. Uber drivers use their own personal cars.
Uber runs this project in partnership with the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD). Bebas Bergerak reaches out to those who might be interested in driving on the Uber platform. The team at Uber and MFD organises special training sessions specifically for the deaf and hearing impaired partners once a month, at Uber’s Partner Support Centre. During these sessions, the MFD assists in crafting a customised training deck for the hearing impaired members.
“When I found out about this partnership, it made me very happy that Uber is being supportive and encouraging of individuals who are deaf by providing us with such an opportunity to earn a living. As I am the president of the KL Deaf Youth Association, I have also shared this information with my fellow members for their benefit,” explains Farhan.
A platform for the hearing impaired
With communication being the most common struggle for all hearing-impaired individuals, the Uber app helps make things easier for them to work anytime and anywhere.
“When I get a ride request, the app helps by flashing a light, instead of making a sound like it usually does with non-deaf partner-drivers, and it shows me that a request is coming in. Once I accept it, the app will notify the rider that I – the partner-driver – am deaf, and it disables the call function.
Hence, the rider and I can only communicate through text messaging in order to decide on our meeting point. To make things easier for both of us, I carry two phones with me, one for navigation, and another for communication,” explains Farhan.
After six months of working as a partner-driver on the Uber platform, Farhan says that the experience he has gained has given him the confidence to be more open in socialising with non-deaf people. He also points out that this shows that deaf people can have equal opportunities as those who are not physically impaired, if only there was a platform for them. Basically, all they need is a fair chance.
“I feel that universal design plays a rather large role when it comes to the physically impaired because it gives us an equal opportunity to use services just like everyone else. To me, what Uber has created is the best example of a universal design.
Universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities.
“Technology is now moving very fast and I hope that in the near future, it will include more designs for the deaf as well as those with other disabilities,” says Farhan.
Chasing one thing after another
According to Farhan, there are 43,000 hearing impaired – or ‘deafies’, registered with the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyrakat Malaysia (JKMM). About 5% have managed to receive higher education and were sent to the US as part of student exchange programmes under the American Field Services, Youth Exchange and Study Programme.
“I’ve realised that not many people are aware of how important it is for the hearing-impaired to have the same rights to education, work and accessibility that everyone else has. This is due to the lack of awareness, education, guidance and encouragement at a young age.
“I feel that it’s time for me – and the Malaysian community, to get more deaf members to be involved in any leadership programmes that will help them grow and gain more knowledge related to deaf rights. We should even promote education on sign language. I believe that with this, more deaf people will be confident in themselves and learn how to adapt to any working environment,” says Farhan.
“I also hope that more people would learn to sign so that communication can be more joyful between everyone and we are able to understand each other much better,” he adds.
If there’s one thing to learn from Farhan, it’s that life does not simply end because of a disability. It begins when one chooses to work hard towards a future that will not only benefit them as an individual, but also those who are facing the same challenges.
“At the end of the day, everyone just wants to have an opportunity to provide for themselves, their loved ones, and to be a productive member of society. Deaf partner-drivers are inspiring examples of resilience and tenacity in this regard. I’m proud that Uber’s technology for deaf partner-drivers widens opportunities for even more Malaysians to ‘Press a button and earn money’ through Projek: Bebas Bergerak. This is a great example that Uber is able to pioneer the kind of technology that solves real-world problems with real people in mind.” – Uber Malaysia general manager for expansion Kenny Choong
What are the International Abilympics?
A contraction of the words ‘Abilities’ and ‘Olympics’, the Abilympics is the world’s largest skill competition that presents an opportunity for people with disabilities to demonstrate their professional expertise. It is a combination between expertise, skills and the Olympic movement. The International Abilympics are held every four years.
“One day, I had ordered an Uber for my parents as I needed to send them to the bus station. Upon sending the request, the app informed me that the driver who accepted my request is deaf. Honestly, I was a little sceptical at first as this was something new to me. However, without thinking too much about it, I confirmed the ride anyway.
Since the driver could not hear, and I assumed could not speak, I then sent him detailed instructions of where I’d like him to drop my parents off, via text message and he in return replied that he understood.
What caught me by surprise when he arrived to pick us up was that he actually greeted us with a friendly ‘Hello’ and I was speechless as I did not think he could speak.
Throughout the car ride to the bus station, our driver even had the radio on for us. Everything was as normal and we arrived at our destination safely and on time.
Overall, the journey was a smooth one and didn’t differ much from a ride with a driver who does not have a disability. I learned that we shouldn’t be quick to judge and that these drivers are just normal people with a disability who are working just as hard for a living.” – Elaine Wong