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Deaf woman becomes first in Wisconsin with a CDL

Suzie Helgerson on September 30, 2016
(WLUK/Alex Ronallo)
Suzie Helgerson on September 30, 2016 (WLUK/Alex Ronallo)
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GRAND CHUTE -- (WLUK) A Waupaca women's journey to get a commercial driver's license, has been anything but ordinary. She is now the first deaf woman in the state to have one.

From ten weeks of training with Fox Valley Technical College, to ten hour days on the road, Suzie Helgerson is officially a truck driver.

"It was a lot of fun. It was frustrating," Helgerson told us of her schooling experience.

For Helgerson the learning process came with a few extra challenges, because she's Deaf, but that is not a road block.

Helgerson uses American Sign Language and speaks using an interpreter.

"I really, really enjoyed learning about trucking and learning how to drive," she explained.

And the school enjoyed having Helgerson as a student.

"Just a great person and, of course, that made it that much easier to work with her," said Rob Behnke the trucking department chair at FVTC.

Three years ago the United States Department of transportation lifted the ban on allowing Deaf people to get commercial drivers licenses. Even without that an individual must get apply for a medical waiver from the government.

"A lot of resources that we pulled together with our special needs department," Behnke explained.

Now according to FVTC Helgerson is the first Deaf woman in Wisconsin and the fifth in the country to become a truck driver.

She told FOX 11 her husband, a truck driver, got her interested in this.

"I didn't want to stay at home all by myself. So I started 'team driving' with him," said Helgerson, who adds that her husband is hard of hearing himself.

"When I decided to take this program he was a great support," she told us.

There are people with concerns about having Deaf truckers on the roads.

But instructors told FOX 11 Helgerson's other senses are stronger to make up for her lack of hearing.

"I personally have no worries for me, for my family, for my friends to be running down the highway next to a driver like Susie," said Behnke.

Helgerson herself said she is qualified for her job and others like her could be too.

"I just want to say: deaf can do it. It's about the skills. It's not about the hearing," she told us passionately, saying it is a job she truly loves, "I enjoy seeing all the sites. I enjoy traveling, meeting new people on the road."

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Helgerson told us her daughter is now interested in the trucking industry.

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