Bills have been introduced in both chambers of Congress to create a demonstration program allowing for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to enlist as officers in the U.S. Air Force.
The bill would direct the Secretary of the Air Force to authorize the program, which would allow for at least 15 deaf or heard of hearing individuals who are otherwise qualified to receive training.
Advocates for the bill, led by Maryland School for the Deaf teacher Keith Nolan, rallied September 12 in Washington D.C. in support of the bill.
“I’m hoping that Americans will watch (the rally participants) over the next two days and see how able they are,” James Tucker, superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf, told the Frederick News-Post.
Advocates for the bill contend that the Air Force provides on a range of opportunities uniquely suited for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
For example, Nolan, in a blog post outlining his reasons for supporting the bill, argues that people who are deaf or hard of hearing often have a heightened ability to process visual information, making them particularly valuable when analyzing intelligence information.
In addition, people who are deaf or hard of hearing also are uniquely suited to operate in high noise environments and would provide a new pool of applicants, at a time when the number of applicants is declining.
According to Nolan, more than a quarter of soldiers who deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan experience hearing loss, making it the “number one disability in the military today.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (IA-D) is the sponsor of S. 1864 and Rep. Mark Takano (CA-D) is the sponsor of H.R. 5296.