(from left to right) Students Alfie Davies, Andrii Chyzh and Jack Grice with driving instructor, James Varney.
(from left to right) Students Alfie Davies, Andrii Chyzh and Jack Grice with driving instructor, James Varney.

A Yorkshire driving instructor who uses British Sign Language (BSL) has joined forces with a specialist college in Doncaster to help teach young people who are deaf how to drive.

James Varney, of Varney Driving School in York, has been working with Communication Specialist College, part of Doncaster Deaf Trust and based on Leger Way, and is currently supporting 11 students to develop their road awareness and driving skills.

The sessions led by James include classroom-based theory lessons and one of the 11 students is now also having practical driving lessons.

James is currently working towards BSL level 3 to communicate with students through sign language.  

James said: “I first started learning BSL about six years ago as I had done a course in teaching people who were Deaf to drive and it included some BSL basics and I wanted to take it further.

“I really enjoy working with the college and together we have organised a plan of lessons that includes elements of driving theory, hazard perception, road safety, car maintenance, and some sections that expand on the understanding of what they will learn during their "in car" driving lessons.

“To start with I did find it difficult not being able to talk to the students about their driving whilst they are driving, but I feel I have found a good balance of being able to give feedback in the next safe and suitable moment when we can pull in. The classroom lessons we hold play a really important role in the process and I have wondered if I can find a way of providing some of this extra knowledge and information to my hearing pupils as they really are so beneficial.

“Having someone who can speak your own language when teaching is important as there is a lot more I can explain and feedback to my pupils that need BSL. It is very important that Deaf students have the opportunity to learn to drive with BSL as they will be able to pick it up faster and not miss things out, unlike if they were having to try and learn without BSL. Learning to drive is life changing for anyone, it opens up opportunities both social and work that they might miss out on without being able to drive.

“Both the staff and the students at the college have been very welcoming. It is a pleasure to feel like I am part of their team, as a driving instructor I am used to working alone, so it is a refreshing change.  I think what the college is trying to do with the classroom sessions is admirable, and will make a life changing difference to their students, and that they are setting a precedence that road safety is a lot more than simply learning to drive. The Highway Code is for life, not just for learners. I hope that it is a partnership that will be able to continue for many years.”

Student Alfie Davies (17) from Doncaster, who has been attending the college for two years undertaking a plastering course and has also been doing the theory and practical driving lessons, said: “I was really shocked when driving lessons were offered to me here at College, I never thought I’d have the opportunity so being able to take part in them has been amazing. Initially I was quite anxious but over time I have improved and my confidence has grown. I’m really enjoying them now. 

“Having a driving instructor that uses BSL means that I understand what is happening, if there are any English words in the theory that I don’t understand this can be explained to me in BSL. Communication with James is really easy and being able to talk things through in my first language has really helped.  I don’t need to worry about communication issues and because of this I have been able to learn and become a more confident driver.

“There are lots of reasons why driving is important to me.  In the future it will enable me drive to and from work and I’ll be able to visit my friends. I can’t wait to visit Cleethorpes and for me to be the one behind the wheel to get us there!

“James has advised me to book my test when I feel ready to take it. I’m not there yet but I’m hoping to take my theory test in the next few months and then hopefully pass my driving test around July time.

“I hope other deaf students will be able to learn to drive and have the same opportunity by accessing lessons here at college like I have as they have made a really positive difference to my life.”

Natalie Pollard, BSL manager at Communication Specialist College Doncaster, said: “We believe it's important for our students to gain the independence and be able to travel in a car for work in the future and to ensure independence in the future. Having James on board who is good at BSL and also on the path to get further qualified makes a massive difference to our students who can communicate in their first language and learn the skills needed to drive as quickly and effectively as possible.

“As a college we provide our Deaf students with the driving theory lessons and individual students can then decide if they want to take the next steps to learn how to drive on the road which they fund themselves.”

Laurent Berges, college principal, is keen to ensure that all deaf students have access to more services such as learning to drive. He said: "I am very grateful for the work James Varney and our BSL manager, Natalie, have achieved with our learners this year. The service that James provides is invaluable.”

For more information about Communication Specialist College Doncaster, visit: www.deaf-trust.co.uk/college

For more information about James Varney Driving School, visit:  https://www.facebook.com/varneydrivingschool