Deaf in Military
Deaf people can’t enlist in the military because they aren’t able to pass the physical requirement of being able to hear beyond a certain threshold.
Several bills have been introduced through the years to try to remove that hearing requirement. The latest one was introduced in the United States House of Representatives during the 115th Congress by U.S. Rep. Mark Takano of California. Named the Keith Nolan Air Force Deaf Demonstration Act, this bill would create a demonstration program with the United States Air Force, giving deaf Americans an opportunity to pursue military service.
Keith Nolan, who is deaf, spent a decade applying for the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program before being allowed to train with a newly-formed battalion at California State University at Northridge. However, due to the military’s hearing requirement, he was not given permission to advance to the third level of ROTC training despite completing the first two levels with high marks; earning the German Armed Force Proficiency Badge, an award recognized by the U.S. Army and approved for wear on uniforms; and achieving a top 15 percent ranking in his battalion. He has since spearheaded advocacy and legislative attempts to include deaf people in the military, including a widely-viewed TEDx talk in 2011, and currently teaches at the Maryland School for the Deaf.
This demonstration program would determine the unique benefits deaf service members can bring to the military, which military occupational specialties are best suited for deaf people and how they can best operate in those positions. Ultimately, the program will help determine how to place qualified deaf Americans into the most appropriate settings and occupations.
According to Nolan, there are many examples of deaf people serving with distinction in the U.S. military! Notable examples include the Texas War of Independence and the Civil War, and, more recently World War II. Israel’s defense forces currently actively recruit deaf individuals for military service in numerous military positions and specialties, showing that deaf people can excel in the military.
It takes an army to make changes! Congress especially likes to hear stories from you sharing about your personal experience wanting to serve in the military, but was rejected due to your deafness. Or maybe you are a Veteran who served in the military with hearing loss, we would also love to hear your stories. Please send them to us and we will share them with Congress!