By Hannah Mann, staff writer

Bill Pennel

Bill Pennell, who became deaf-blind later in life, has faithfully attended’s Open Chat Night since its inception. Quipping that he is “now twenty-one years old for the third time,” Pennell worked as a police officer in Maryland for ten years, operating as a patrol officer for two years and a DOT inspector for the remaining eight years. Soon after his retirement in late 2001, his hearing began to deteriorate due to Meniere’s Disease. In 2010, he woke up blind in his left eye; no cause could be found.

Pennell uses two hearing aids and watches TV with a hearing pad under his chair that creates a sound loop for his T-coils. For calls, he texts on his mobile. Because Pennell’s hearing loss is progressive, he and his wife began learning sign language five years ago so he would have communication options when his hearing aids no longer helped. He attends a deaf church service to brush up on his skills.

Since Pennell’s hearing loss started so late in life, it did not affect his career. Nevertheless, it opened social avenues: Pennell says, “I’ve met many good people that also have hearing loss.” When asked about what advice he had for deaf and hard of hearing people considering a career in law enforcement, Pennell suggested forensics. Unfortunately, he explains, officers have to be able to use a radio, thus rendering most police work highly impractical, if not impossible, for those with hearing loss.

Pennell has two sisters; his mother has hearing loss, though they do not know if it is due to age or genetics. He still lives in Maryland with his wife and spends his retirement days watching TV, smoking a nice cigar on his balcony, playing golf, and surfing the Internet—often at’s Open Chat nights.