Let Us Work

Deaf people are barred from being Airline Pilots TSA Officers Truck drivers* Passenger Bus Drivers* in the Military Lifeguards* Firefighters* Railroad Engineers FBI Special Agents IRS Investigators Astronauts in the Coast Guard Law Enforcement* NPS Rangers NASA Aviators (flight) Correctional Employees Doctors* Fish and Wildlife Agents

Wanted: Deaf enlisted military. Help make this a reality!

Keith Nolan shares his experience with trying to get the American military to change its regulations so that deaf people can enlist.

What is “Let Us Work” all about?

Deaf people are capable of holding many jobs that we are currently barred from. These fields — that we’ve found so far! — require that applicants pass a hearing test.

Do these jobs really require hearing? Are there other ways to achieve the same results? How much do the restrictions stem from stigma or misconceptions?

We will examine these questions in our “Let Us Work” video series, highlighting workplace inequalities. We will look at what jobs carry hearing restrictions, why, and what can be done about that.

The ADA was passed almost three decades ago. Yet Deaf people still don’t have a level playing field when it comes to employment. Get rid of the hearing test requirements and LET US WORK.

*Some jurisdictions.

We are acting to remove unnecessary, discriminatory hearing restrictions from current policies.

Find out how you can help.


Deaf people can’t enlist in the military because they aren’t able to pass the physical requirement of being able to hear beyond a certain threshold.

Several bills have been introduced through the years to try to remove that hearing requirement. The latest one was introduced in the United States House of Representatives during the 115th Congress by U.S. Rep. Mark Takano of California. Named the Keith Nolan Air Force Deaf Demonstration Act, this bill would create a demonstration program with the United States Air Force, giving deaf Americans an opportunity to pursue military service.

Keith Nolan, who is deaf, 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.  However, due to the military’s hearing requirement, he was not given permission to advance to the third level of ROTC training despite completing the first two levels with high marks; earning the German Armed Force Proficiency Badge, an award recognized by the U.S. Army and approved for wear on uniforms; and achieving a top 15 percent ranking in his battalion. He has since spearheaded advocacy and legislative attempts to include deaf people in the military, including a widely-viewed TEDx talk in 2011, and currently teaches at the Maryland School for the Deaf.

This demonstration program would determine the unique benefits deaf service members can bring to the military, which military occupational specialties are best suited for deaf people and how they can best operate in those positions.  Ultimately, the program will help determine how to place qualified deaf Americans into the most appropriate settings and occupations.

According to Nolan, there are many examples of deaf people serving with distinction in the U.S. military! Notable examples include the Texas War of Independence and the Civil War,  and, more recently World War II. Israel’s defense forces currently actively recruit deaf individuals for military service in numerous military positions and specialties, showing that deaf people can excel in the military.

You can find out ways to get involved here!

Keith Nolan

“It takes an army to make changes! Congress especially likes to hear stories from you sharing about your personal experience wanting to serve in the military, but was rejected due to your deafness. Or maybe you are a Veteran who served in the military with hearing loss, we would also love to hear your stories. Please send them to us and we will share them with Congress!” – Keith Nolan

Transportation Security Officer

“Why should Deaf people be prevented from working as Transportation Security Officers? It has already historically been proven by many Deaf people — including myself — that we are able to meet or exceed the performance of our hearing peers in this type of field. The skills we have to offer in this field are boundless. My hope is that the TSA will remove this needless barrier and allow people like us to work for them.” – Brandon Dopf

Photo of Brandon Dopf

Recent studies have shown that Deaf people perform certain tasks better than the general public. In several of these studies, Deaf people were shown to have higher capacity for processing visual tasks, demonstrating quicker reaction times to visual stimuli. In others, Deaf people were shown to be quicker at recognizing and interpreting body language. Everything being equal, this gives Deaf people a leg up when it comes to jobs that rely on visual processing or interpreting body language — such as Transportation Security Officers, who screen travelers and monitor them for suspicious behavior.

But everything is not equal, and Deaf people are prohibited from being Transportation Security Officers, though the career would otherwise seem uniquely suited for them. Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires Transportation Security Officer applicants to pass a hearing test; those who do not are placed on hold, effectively tabling their application and denying them the honor of becoming Transportation Security Officers.

This artificial barrier to employment not only denies Deaf people careers, it prevents Deaf people from serving their country. But this doesn’t need to be the case: Deaf people are employed as security guards, surveillance managers and expert body language analysts by private companies, and by the governments of other countries. DHS’ requirement for a hearing test is notable for the fact that it excludes any consideration for the provision of reasonable accommodations — which private companies are required to provide applicants, per the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Do you want to tell the TSA that you want them to open up their hiring process and let Deaf people work where they are most successful? Sign the petition, here!

CDL: Truck and Bus Drivers

Did you know that there were no Deaf commercial truck drivers before 2012? Anyone wanting to drive a commercial truck or passenger bus must have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates CDLs. And until 2012, the DOT required that anyone who wanted to become a truck driver to pass a hearing test to receive a CDL.

Those who could not pass the hearing test were not eligible to get a CDL.

In 2012, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed a request with the DOT asking to remove the hearing test requirement for CDLs. The DOT did not grant that request, but did decide to set up a waiver process instead of removing the hearing test requirement.

In 2013, the DOT granted waivers to the first group of 38 Deaf Truck Drivers. Today, there are 618 Deaf Truck Drivers, and counting!

But the waiver system still has problems. Not only is it an extra, unnecessary step, but Deaf people who want to become Truck Drivers have to wait longer and longer than ever to go through the process. Waivers currently take up to one year to be granted, a year in which the Deaf person is unable to work as a truck driver, even if they have all of the necessary training.

And the DOT’s waiver process doesn’t include Class C CDLs — the kind you need to drive a passenger bus. This is because the DOT decided that passenger bus drivers still need to be able to hear — even though there’s demand for Deaf passenger bus drivers, such as at Deaf schools.

We need to shine a bright spotlight on this injustice and pressure the DOT to revisit the NAD’s original request — to eliminate the hearing test requirement entirely.

Want to support Deaf truck drivers? Sign the petition here!

“The biggest issue I would like to see changed is our ability to get hearing waivers. Because of the LONG and tiring wait to get the hearing waiver, many lose interest in getting involved in the industry. This is setting us back. Older drivers are now retiring, and this is our opportunity to step in and make a change, due to the shortage of drivers and the great demand. We would make awesome replacements for the retirees.” – Priscilla Brackenridge

“My hope is that the DOT develops better standard waiver system for deaf truck drivers nationwide, modeled after the FAA. It is easier to be a deaf pilot than it is to be a deaf truck driver!” – Todd Barker

Aircraft Pilot

Jenny Hurst

“I have the honor of representing Deaf Pilots’ Association as a private pilot and as president. We are the face of fighters and doers. We overcome extra challenges to succeed in a very hearing-dominated industry, one that has largely dismissed and discouraged us, historically. That alone shows that we are capable of handling high-stress environments, and that we have the competency to problem-solve issues on a regular basis. We have consistently proven our level of ability to be perform at a level equal to or beyond our hearing peers. This type of tenacity and focus should be on FAA’s radar as a highly sought-after group of pilots to consider as professional pilots. It’s time to break the “sound-barrier!” – Jenny Hurst

Jackson Busenbark, licensed private pilot

“I am a licensed Deaf private pilot. Flying has been a lifelong dream of mine but, currently under FAA regulations I’m not allowed to pilot for big passenger airlines. If the technology to provide me with all of the important information was safe and available, would you trust me to fly for you?” – Jackson Busenbark, licensed private pilot – Airplane Single Engine Land.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates pilot certifications. Our community has a rich history of Deaf aviators, including Rhulin Thomas, who flew coast to coast in 1947. This led to him receiving a medal at the White House.

Unfortunately, Rhulin lost his pilot’s license in 1947. The rise of radio communications meant that Rhulin and generations of Deaf pilots that followed him were excluded from flying many types of planes starting in 1947, simply because they could not use radio equipment on those planes.

Today, the FAA is working on a next-generation satellite communication technology called NextGen, which includes data communication capabilities. We have filed a petition with the FAA asking them to consider which existing and emerging technologies can enable Deaf pilots to communicate with air traffic control (ATC) without a voice connection — and to make sure that the design of NextGen allows for pilots to communicate with ATC through data communications only.

By demolishing the artificial barrier created by radio equipment in 1947, Deaf pilots will again take to the sky unencumbered by the restrictions that, today, only allow them to fly where they do not need to communicate with air traffic control.

Do you want to tell the FAA that you support these changes? Sign the petition, here!