Keith Nolan, a teacher at the Maryland School for the Deaf, wants to be in the military but can’t. Because he is deaf.
Dave Alexander, who went through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in college, flew Black Hawk helicopters in the military, taught ROTC, and went into the Reserves, went to graduate school for audiology and started working at the Maryland School for the Deaf in November. That’s when he met Keith.
“I think once people stop and think about it and recognize the talents everybody can contribute; I think we can get over that. I’m fortunate enough to work with Keith and fortunate enough to see his talent, his work and his skills,” Alexander told the Frederick News-Post.
A bill was reintroduced in 2016, and a feasibility report on the pilot program was put in the military’s annual budget, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. The report, by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), identified the ability to deploy and security as the two primary obstacles to allowing deaf people in the military.
Like many, the report was due on March 1, but didn’t get to Congress until mid-May. The report was supposed to help Congress consider a bill on the pilot program.
At this point, because of the delay, the pilot program could be considered for the fiscal 2018 military budget. Over the last five years, Nolan has met with White House liaisons several times, but thus far it has not helped. In fact, he’s met with people in Congress more than 100 times.
Nolan’s not the only one fighting. Two years ago Ethan Lusted, the first deaf graduate of The Citadel, ran with Nolan from the Maryland School for the Deaf to Washington to encourage others to support the legislation. They met with about 300 supporters after the run to march from the Capitol to the White House.
Is it really feasible, though? And what can the deaf do in the military? Nolan says cybersecurity, primarily requiring computer skills, is one idea. Here’s the catch, though: The feasibility report states that each service member must be able to deploy at any time, regardless of military occupational specialty. As of today, there are no non-deployable occupations.
And what about military equipment? Is it up to par for the deaf to properly utilize? The report states no. The potential accommodations for the deaf, portable electronics or wireless technology, could jeopardize security and would even require security review and documentation.
“While the concept of establishing pools of personnel exempt from deployment is feasible, the impact to the force would be significant,” the report reads.
The report states that if service members cannot deploy, leadership has to find replacements, creating work and a delay in personnel processing.
The military has played a large part in Nolan’s life, as his grandfather was a lieutenant in the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, as well as several other relatives.
Nolan was unsuccessful when trying to enlist in the Navy, but could participate in an ROTC program at California State University, until the third level–a physical with a hearing test. After that, Nolan was stuck, as he could not complete ROTC to go into the military.
Alexander said people he served with in the past have used hearing aids due to hearing levels that decreased while serving. Today, if those people tried to join the military, they wouldn’t be allowed in.
And so Nolan spearheaded a new program, the Maryland School for the Deaf’s Cadet program, similar to Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The program teaches students about the military and includes rank structure and soldier skills, focusing on leadership, teamwork, and communication. Although the intention of the program was not so that cadets could enter the military or go into ROTC in college, but Nolan mentioned it would be great.
Nolan’s main focus today is the bill. And, according to an interview with the Frederick News-Post, Nolan’s taking one step at a time.
“I do hope to see this demonstration program. That’s my focus: Is the demonstration program set up soon? Once we have that, I feel that’s where we can worry about what happens next.”