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Roger and Ali

If I can, you can!

I passed my driving test first time, having had 36 lessons plus a few hairy drives with my dad, in his sports cars. I have always loved the road. But many people doubted I should be driving, after contracting meningitis at 3 years old and due to inner ear damage, I became profoundly deaf and was also left with no sense of balance. When I speak, I sound as though I have a cold, one ear is completely dead and I wear the best hearing the NHS can provide in my ‘good’ ear. To put that into context: I couldn’t hear a pneumatic drill if I stood next to it – without my hearing aid. Achieving most things in life has been challenging, as I have had to overcome communications and balance issues. I have often fallen back on plain stubbornness in order to excel!

When I met my husband, we talked about driving quite a bit as he’s an Approved Driving Instructor. When he told me about his IAM achievements with both motorcycle and car, I was envious. I love motorbikes, having had a moped at 17 and practised round and round a swimming pool! As soon as my provisional licence appeared I was straight onto the open road and straight into a bush! I had always dreamt of doing an advanced driving course, thinking it was all about driving on wet roads, round traffic cones and being able to cope with severe weather conditions. Last year, my Christmas gift was a wonderful IAM envelope… I cried! Truly, it was the best present I have ever had.

My husband, Steve had bought me the gift, after first speaking to Roger Hicks, Chief Observer at IAM Lincolnshire. Roger didn’t see my disability as anything that would hinder my progress and he agreed to take me on, as my allocated observer. He obviously likes a challenge!

From the start, Roger was absolutely brilliant communicating with me, he never gave up nor seemed fazed. I have a ‘lip reading’ mirror just under the rear view mirror in my car, where I can see my passengers’ face, in order to lip read short sentences or key words. Quickly, our drives had a system: catch up on news; plan the drive and the route; work out what I wanted to achieve that day; and what I needed to focus on. Roger and I came up with hand signs for directions, and shamefully I have to add, ‘slow down’, which I still see when approaching bends! Yes, I like bendy roads and corners and forget I’ve not got a “pre-children” sports car anymore!

Seriously, before I started my course, I had driven sports cars, driven miles daily for my job and lived in London covering the M25, inner London roads, lived in Reading opposite the football club and parking was quickly an art! M4 corridor, Home Counties all pre-satnav days and generally driving anywhere and everywhere. Here I thought, what can I learn? I am a good driver; the driving instructor husband had mentioned this! What could I improve on?

Every week, I looked forward to my drives with Roger, practising eagerly in the week. Each week I felt more confident driving and more secure on the roads. I learnt things I never knew! At almost 50, having driven since 17, I learnt new things such as using the IPSGA system, the importance of 10-2 hands on the wheel (I sign a bit and that leaves one hand on the wheel!) ‘tyres and tarmac’, using the middle of country roads, driving progressively to avoid others having to slow down. I learnt to use spoken thoughts which was so helpful, but I was so shy as I don’t hear what other people say – so practising was important. In the car, having a passenger is hard work, never mind three teenagers of my own who have thankfully learnt not to interrupt mum while driving unless it’s urgent. I have to lip read, watch the road, keep my eyes glued on all mirrors, watching the traffic, eyes out for potential hazards, watching my speedo, watching the satnav if required.

Test day! My wedding was a nerve racking day, test day was almost on par. I didn’t want to fail.

Roger contacted Mark Carlin, my examiner and explained my communication needs. I arrived at an agreed meeting spot early… oh my nerves! 40 minutes after meeting Mark, establishing communication methods, having had a few things explained, we set off on my test. I needn’t have worried at all! I quickly felt at ease, I drove as I drove on my own, remembering Roger’s hand signal ‘slow down’ on the bendy roads, timidly giving some spoken thoughts and chatting like I usually do. I felt nervous again, pulling up to hear the results. Wow! I still feel that sheer elation seeing the paperwork that I’d got a F1RST. I did it! My drive home mirrored that of the same drive after passing my first test at 19. Even now, I type with goose bumps and emotion. The whole experience is very uplifting. It has been character building and given me a new found confidence, knowing that I have a new found knowledge and ability.

Pride in my new skills is wonderful. I may be 49, I may be deaf, I may have no sense of balance, I may be a busy mum to 3 teenagers and wife to a grumpy husband, but anyone can do this!

Guess what’s on my Christmas wish list this year, a Master’s Course! If you have a dream, go and make it happen – I did!

Ali Broadley