Skills We’ve Developed

The deaf community and electric vehicles

This is a letter to The New Yorker from Madan Vasishta of Ellicott City, Maryland, writing in response to John Seabrook’s recent article about sounds for electric vehicles. The key issue is the matter of the “skills” developed by the hearing impaired. The ability of the deaf to safely navigate streets is not a refutation of the importance of car sounds; it’s an affirmation of the fact that being a pedestrian isn’t a neutral state. It requires effort, attention, and experience. This letter appeared in the magazine’s September 12, 2022, issue.

I read with great interest John Seabrook’s article about making sounds for electric vehicles, or E.V.s (“On Alert,” August 8th). Although I learned much about how these soundscapes are made, I was disappointed that Seabrook did not mention the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. The million deaf people in the U.S. typically cannot hear internal-combustion-engine vehicles, or even their horns — yet we manage to survive! Silent E.V.s put the public in the same precarious situation that deaf people have been in since the automobile was invented. Perhaps our perspectives, and the skills we’ve developed to protect our lives, could usefully inform the work of those thinking about the future of E.V.s — as well as heighten the awareness of anyone encountering these cars.

Originally published in a special, experimental September 16, 2022, edition of the This Week in Sound email newsletter. Get it in your inbox via

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