Cadet argues for military acceptance of deaf soldiers

Often the US military seems so set in its ways as to be unchangeable. Yet in the past, the bans on women and on African American people serving in the military have both been repealed. Next, as one man vehemently argues in the TedTalk below, are people with disabilities. Despite childhood dreams of growing up to join the military, Keith Nolan settled with a master’s degree in deaf education due to repeatedly being told by military representatives that his deafness was a disqualifier for military entrance. Yet when Nolan caught himself passing on the refrain of “No” to his deaf students, he realized change was necessary. Galvanized by the news that deaf soldiers have historically served in the United States armed forces, that Israel currently accepts deaf soldiers, and that the military currently goes to great lengths to accommodate soldiers disabled in combat, Nolan set out to challenge the bar on deaf citizens joining the US military. Nolan questions, “If the US military can retain their disabled soldiers, why can’t they accept disabled citizens as well?”

Nolan offers three main points regarding why it is time for the United States military to accept deaf soldiers; that “Israeli defense openly accepts deaf soldiers…The US military has accommodations for retaining their disabled soldiers, and lastly, 80% of occupations in the military are non-combat.” Many of these non-combat jobs are also accessible and suited to deaf people, such as intelligence work or engineering positions. In 2009, Nolan joined the ROTC program at his Alma Mater. He went on to prosper, and was gradually given increased access until he was fully involved in the program. However, despite his success in the program, he was unable to continue on to the third year due to the required medical exam. Of his elimination from the program, Nolan states, “All of my fellow cadets and the officers have told me not to give up. The policy must change.”

Nolan is calling for action – it is time that the US military accepts capable and qualified deaf soldiers for non-combatant positions. Nolan is currently working on a bill that will allow deaf citizens to serve their country. For more information on Nolan and his work, his Facebook page can be found here.

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Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.