Lawmaker wants trial program for deaf to serve in Air Force

Summarized by Jennifer Reed, staff writer

Those who are deaf, use a hearing aid, or have a cochlear implant are presently excluded from service in the Air Force. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen says, “Situations could occur where hearing impairment would not only result in injury or loss of life, but could jeopardize a unit’s mission.”

Currently, the only option for individuals with hearing loss is to serve as civilians with the Department of Defense. However, Representative Mark Takano of California, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Congressional Deaf Caucus, is advocating for legislation that would provide the opportunity for 15 to 20 persons with hearing loss to serve on a trial basis in the Air Force with hope to eventually expand the program to all branches.

Takano’s proposal coincides with Tom Harkin’s Senate bill, introduced in December, which brings to light the ability for active service members who become disable to remain in the military.

Takano is a representative for the California School for the Deaf in Riverside. He and Harkin developed both bills after hearing that Keith Nolan, a cadet in the California Army ROTC was unable to advance in rank because of his hearing loss.

Air Force helicopter pilot, CODA, and sibling of a brother with hearing loss, Capt. Casey Doane states that with accommodations and limitations the deaf and hard of hearing can serve in the Air Force.

Doane, a St. Paul, Minnesota, native, served his first 10 years in the Air Force in the enlisted ranks, eventually becoming a commissioned officer. He witnessed the “determination and perseverance” of his deaf family members and notes that they have “overcome their disabilities” and are able to “do just about everything that anybody else would be able to do.”

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