On July 30, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House that would allow a small number of hearing-impaired individuals to serve in the United States Air Force. The legislation would give 15 to 20 people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, but otherwise fit for military duty, the chance to serve their country in a demonstration program. Original co-sponsors include Rep. Niki Tsongas, Rep. John Garamendi, Rep. Henry Waxman, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
The proposed legislation is a companion to a Senate bill introduced in December by Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has noted that the military allows service members who acquire a disability while serving their country to remain on active duty.
The Department of Defense, which sets medical standards for enlistment, excludes from service those who are deaf, use a hearing aid, or have a cochlear implant.
Capt. Casey Doane, of Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, who grew up in a deaf family and is currently on active duty in the Air Force, believes hearing-impaired Americans are capable of serving, pointing to his own experience in support of the claim. Capt. Doane acknowledges that certain accommodations and limitations would have to be made, but ultimately no more than for other individuals with unique circumstances who are already serving.
Rep. Takano further explains that in past decades, the Armed Forces have given groups who were previously excluded the opportunity to serve and calls on the Armed Forces to do the same for fully-qualified individuals with auditory impairments. Congressman Takano would like to see these accommodations offered by all service branches.
The National Association of the Deaf has endorsed the legislation.