Let Us Work

Let Us Work – Military

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

Learn more about challenges in other careers!


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.

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Transportation Security Officer

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.

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Aircraft Pilot

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.

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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.

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