Communication Service for the Deaf Supports Legislation to Allow Deaf Americans to Enlist and Serve in the U.S. Military

Share Article

Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), the world’s largest deaf-led social impact organization, announced its support of legislation that, if passed, would expand opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing Americans to enlist and serve in the United States military.

News Image

Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), the world’s largest deaf-led social impact organization, announced its support of legislation that, if passed, would expand opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing Americans to enlist and serve in the United States military.

Deaf and hard of hearing people currently are barred from enlisting in the military because they do not pass the physical requirement of being able to hear beyond a certain threshold. Since 2011, several bills have been introduced to open military service to deaf individuals, but all failed to become law. The last bill – H.R. 5831 – which was originally introduced in the United States House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Mark Takano of California in 2018, brought renewed attention to the effort to give deaf Americans the opportunity to pursue military service.

Named the Keith Nolan Air Force Deaf Demonstration Act, recognizing Keith Nolan for his efforts to serve in the military as a deaf person, this bill is intended to create a demonstration program with the United States Air Force to explore the benefits of having deaf individuals serve in the military. Information collected from the program’s participants would be analyzed to determine how qualified deaf Americans would be able to effectively participate and serve in the military.

Keith Nolan 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. He earned the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge, an award recognized by the U.S. Army and approved for wear on uniforms, and achieved a top 15 percent ranking in his battalion. Despite his accomplishment of completing the first two levels of the ROTC program with high marks, he was not permitted to advance to the third level of ROTC because he was not able to pass the program’s hearing requirement. Since then, he has spearheaded advocacy and legislative attempts to include deaf people in the military, including starting up a cadet program at the Maryland School for the Deaf, where he now works.

In an April 2011 TED Talk entitled “Deaf in the Military,” Nolan described his experience and stated his case for why deaf people should be able to serve. He also provided examples of military careers deaf people could excel in, including working in intelligence, cybersecurity, logistics, maintenance and repairs.

According to Nolan, examples of deaf people serving in the U.S. military date back to the Texas War of Independence, the Civil War and as late as World War II. Also, Israel's defense forces actively recruit deaf individuals for military service in numerous military positions and specialties, he added.

“CSD commends Keith Nolan for his tireless work in advocating for deaf people to become eligible for military service,” said Christopher Soukup, CEO of CSD. “There are many positions in the Armed Forces that do not require one’s ability to hear as a qualification for excellence. More importantly, the deaf community is extraordinarily talented and capable. Deaf people are more than ready to serve their country and in the military in a variety of ways. It is long time for these outdated and unnecessary restrictions to be lifted.”

“Inspired by Keith Nolan, this proposed bill would establish a small Air Force pilot program that would give deaf and hard-of-hearing people the opportunity to become officers and there are plenty of ways in which deaf and hard-of-hearing people can contribute to our national defense as service members,” said Rep. Takano, who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “As someone who represents the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, I believe we should do this and I continue to push for it. I am very hopeful that this time we will succeed in getting my proposed bill included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.”

In 2018, the demonstration program language was added to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill. It was adopted by the House of Representatives but later removed during the Conference Committee with the Senate in July 2018 in the final draft of the NDAA 2019.

This year, Nolan and Rep. Takano have been working on reintroducing the demonstration program to be included in both the Senate and the House versions of NDAA 2020. The Personnel Subcommittee markup for the Senate version of NDAA 2020 is scheduled for May 21, 2019, with the final full Senate Armed Services Committee markup on May 22. The House version markup is set for June 4. The Conference Committee review of the NDAA 2020 final draft is expected this July.

CSD’s support of legislation to open service in the military to deaf people is part of the organization’s national campaign, “Let Us Work.” “Let Us Work” advocates for the removal of outdated hearing requirements that needlessly prevent deaf people from working in different industries. This campaign highlights other occupations where deaf people are not permitted to work, such as being commercial air pilots, Transportation Security Administration agents and driving certain commercial trucks and buses, among others.

For more information please visit CSD and Let Us Work.

Media Contacts:

The Durkin Agency

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Karen Durkin
The Durkin Agency LLC
+1 386-451-4850
Email >