A Lawrence University football coach feels he’s being discriminated against by Wisconsin’s Department of Motor Vehicles because of the way he looks.
Despite possessing a valid California license, with no restrictions, he’s tried and failed to obtain a Wisconsin driver’s license.
Mark Speckman has coached high school, college and pro football for 34 years. He just joined the staff at Lawrence University.
“It’s a great school. I really like D-3 athletics, especially after the pros. It’s refreshing to see guys playing for the love of the game and for the right reasons, so it was a green light here,” he says.
“We love Appleton. It’s a wonderful town. I’ve felt very welcomed here and this could be a nice home for us, until we went to the DMV and then it was like, welcome to Wisconsin? We didn’t see that coming,” says Sue Speckman, his wife.
On August 14, the Speckmans went to the DMV office in Appleton to get their Wisconsin drivers licenses.
“Person behind the counter said, ‘No offense,’ and he seemed very nervous, he said, ‘No offense, sir, but you know you don’t have hands, and I’m not sure what we can do about your license.’ And Mark goes, ‘What do you mean? I know I don’t have hands, but I have a valid California license, I’ve been driving for 44 years,” Sue recalls.
Born without hands, Mark Speckman earned All-American honors as a Division 3 linebacker and travels the country as a motivational speaker and author.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had an institutional barrier that’s caused me to really pause, and it’s been an eye-opener. You feel helpless, you feel like you’re being minimized,” he says.
His wife got her license, but the DMV ordered Mark to take a road test.
“All of a sudden I see this lady walk out with her yellow safety vest and a clipboard and Mark behind her and I’m thinking, oh my goodness, this is not going to turn out good. She’s taking him for a road test you would take a beginning driver,” says Sue.
Upset and embarrassed, Mr. Speckman didn’t pass three procedures and failed the test.
“I thought the test was to show that I could handle the car. I don’t see how whether I stopped on the line at the stop sign or crossed it is going to prove I can drive a car, I’ve got a license, and finally about midway through I realized, hey, this is a standard test and she doesn’t care if I can grip the wheel with my teeth or my ears or however I drive,” says Mark.
“I really felt they discriminated against him based on ignorance. I mean, they don’t know him and they’re basically feeling he’s not a good driver, and Mark said, ‘Well, I have a valid California license. Am I going to be OK to go out and drive?’ “Oh yeah, you can go drive,’ and it’s like OK, so he’s still driving,” says Sue.
Mark took us for a drive around the city of Appleton.
“Got my license at 16. Took my driving test in an old Oldsmobile 3 speed, 3 on the tree,” recalls Mark.
In 44 years behind the wheel, he’s never been in an accident.
“Nobody’s ever said a word to me at a rental counter. Nobody’s said a word to me about anything. You show your license and go,” he says.
After the DMV in Appleton denied Mark a license, he went to the Oshkosh office, where DMV employees insisted he fill out a medical form and receive a doctor’s permission.
He then tried the DMV in Green Bay, where he was told he would have to pass an in-depth one hour road test.
“We’ve come to the state of Wisconsin and apparently they have different standards, they think maybe better standards. Well, if you do then get your act together because my goodness we went to three different places and each had a different kind of protocol,” says Sue.
A protocol Mark feels is vague and discriminatory.
“If you have 9 fingers do they test you? Eight? I mean, where’s the limit, where’s the cutoff? I get it, I get the fact it looks different, but just cause it looks different doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It boggles my mind the State of Wisconsin would do that to people that come in with the same credentials as anybody else has and just because you look different they believe you can’t do it. I don’t even see how it’s legal,” says Mark.
While the DMV has given Mark the chance to come back and take another driving test, he’s in no hurry to do so.
His California license is good until next summer and he’s hoping there’s a policy change before then.
“I would like to just walk in to the desk, get my number, pass my eye test for the fourth time, get my picture for the fourth time, go up, pull my license out of my wallet like I did every other time by myself, hand it to them, they look to see it’s valid, I get a Wisconsin license and I walk out. That’s what I would like to be able to do. Hey I’m paying taxes here, my car is here, I registered my car, bought a car. I’d like to make this my home, but really in final analysis maybe Wisconsin’s just not a friendly place for handicapped people,” says Mark.
We contacted the Appleton office, which referred us to the DMV headquarters in Madison.
While the DMV refused to talk specifically about Coach Speckman’s case, it pointed out that DMV policy states “the department may conduct a special examination to determine whether a person adequately compensates for a medical condition or functional impairment.”
The Speckmans feel the word “may” opens the door for discrimination.
The DMV disagrees.
“The word ‘may’ gives us the opportunity to examine or test those individuals who, through that close observation of their functional ability may, again, not be able to exercise the reasonable control of a motor vehicle,” says Steve Pazynski, Wisconsin DMV Medical Review & Fitness Unit Supervisor.
The DMV says it’s constantly working with its 400-plus examiners at field stations around the state to make sure they’re offering the best possible customer service.
Mark Speckman feels more training is needed.
“Their staff needs to be sensitized. This is a bad law. I think bad laws need to be changed,” says Mark.