A Waupaca woman made history by being the first woman and deaf person in the state to get a commercial driving license after an extra ordinary journey.
The journey has been anything but easy. She had to put up with ten weeks of training at the Fox Valley Technical College and to top it off, spend ten hours days on the highway. It all paid off though because Suzie Helgerson is now an officially registered truck driver.
When asked about her journey, Helgerson said it was tons of fun, but at the same time, it was frustrating. One thing that made the experience frustrating for Helgerson is her deafness. That was not a road block though her interpreter said. Helgerson uses American Sign Language and communicates with others through an interpreter.
Helgerson said she loved learning how to drive a truck at the Fox Valley Technical institute. The instructors in turn had fun working with her because she is a great person to work with. It made working with her easier than most hearing trainees, according to Rob Behnke the chairman at FVTC.
Helgerson wouldn’t have had the pleasure of being licensed as a truck driver were it not for the United States Department of Transportation lifting the ban barring deaf people from acquiring commercial driver’s licenses. Even then, a deaf person has to apply for a medical waiver from the government to get the driver’s license.
Behnke noted that a lot of manpower and resources went behind setting up a special needs department at the technical college. All the resources and hard work paid off after Helgerson became the first deaf woman in Wisconsin and the fifth in the United States to receive the driver’s license.
When she talked to Fox 11, Helgerson mentioned it was her husband, a truck driver, who got her interested in the certification. Since she didn’t want to stay home by herself when her husband set out, she started team driving with him. What’s amazing is the husband also has hearing difficulties.
When she took up the program, her husband offered her tremendous support. For people afraid of deaf drivers, the instructors at VYC told Fox 11 that Helgerson’s other senses are far more advanced, making up for her lack of hearing. Behnke said that he had no fears for himself or anyone else driving next to Helgerson on the highway.
Helgerson encouraged other deaf people to take up the job because if she can do it, then everyone else could. Being a truck driver, according to Helgerson, is not about hearing, it’s about skills and getting a chance to see new places.