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CCAC student becomes licensed commercial truck driver despite hearing loss

CDL student Daniel Zeolla in front of CCAC truckPITTSBURGH—The Community College of Allegheny County is celebrating the accomplishment of Daniel Zeolla, who recently passed his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam to become a licensed truck driver –-and he did it without hearing a word from his instructors. Zeolla, who is Deaf, wanted to become a licensed truck driver so he could expand his mobile welding business to do repair work on dump truck beds. He chose the CCAC program because it is close to home, has flexible hours and is more affordable than other trucking schools in the region. The fact that CCAC provides interpreters to students with hearing loss sealed the deal.  

Lori Hamblin, director of CCAC Supportive Services, worked with Darius Markham, CDL coordinator, and the CDL instructors to come up with solutions that would enable Zeolla to meet all the requirements of the program. The college provided a team of two interpreters from Sign Language Interpreting Professionals, who would alternate turns signing during the four-hour classes and the driving portion of the course. In addition, the office had all of the instructional videos close-captioned for Zeolla, who was impressed with the way the college stepped up to help him achieve his goal.

“Our instructors were fantastic,” said Hamblin. “They jumped right on board and were very willing and eager to make this happen.”

Markham did some research and found helpful information from a community college in Texas that has trained truck drivers with hearing loss. To facilitate the on-road training held at Boyce Campus, the instructor provided directions before entering the truck, which the interpreter signed to Zeolla. Once seated, the interpreter would ride in the passenger seat while the instructor walked along the driver’s side, giving further instructions to his student through basic hand signals when needed. 

Markham was impressed with Zeolla’s “great attitude and great work ethic,” and he was pleasantly surprised with how well the accommodations worked. Teaching a deaf student was not very different from training someone who spoke a different language, he explained. 

“Daniel was a very determined young man,” said Markham. “I think everyone here would love to have more students like him.”

Zeolla, who does not speak, did face a challenge when it came time to take the exam to get his license, as the federal guidelines do not allow for interpreters during testing. A white board was provided for communication during the lengthy test, but that would have been cumbersome and time consuming. Luckily, the state examiner understood body language and hand gestures, so he was able to give the test without using the white board. Zeolla passed the test and received his license, and he is now ready to put his new skills to good use. 

He is also hoping that the rules will be changed for other Deaf students who may not be so fortunate. Zeolla believes interpreters should be allowed during the pre-trip, air brake and skills tests as they are state certified. The testing site could even assign an interpreter so it would be someone unknown to the student, he said. 

According to Markham, hundreds of commercial driving jobs are available in the Pittsburgh area for local (home every day), regional (gone one or two nights a week) and over-the-road (nationwide) drivers. The CCAC program is offered at Boyce Campus and Washington County Center and runs for eight weeks with classes meeting four hours a day, Monday – Friday. Classes start every four weeks at each location, and no prior truck driving experience is required.

The program follows all CDC guidelines to ensure safety and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For more information or to register, contact Darius Markham at 724.325.6834 or dmarkham@ccac.edu. To complete an inquiry/preregistration form, click here