Deaf and severely hearing impaired individuals could soon serve in the Air Force if legislation introduced in July by a California lawmaker is passed.
An Air Force captain convinced U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, to introduce a bill that would allow deaf and hearing impaired people to serve in the Air Force as part of a pilot or demonstration program.
Current Defense Department hearing requirements bar the deaf from serving, as well as individuals who currently require or previously used a hearing aid, or have a cochlear ear implant.
Capt. Casey Doane, a helicopter pilot who grew up in a deaf family, acknowledged in a statement released July 30 by Takano's office 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."
The bill, now before the House Armed Services Committee, has the endorsement of the National Association of the Deaf, the Democrat lawmaker said. The legislation would include individuals who rely on hearing aids or cochlear ear implants.
The bill's co-sponsors include four other Democrats -- Reps. John Garamendi and Henry Waxman, both of California -- and Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts.
Takano said the military has in recent decades been more open to groups previously unable to serve, and that it is time "to do the same for individuals with auditory impairments."
The demonstration program would open the door to 15 to 20 deaf or hard of hearing individuals who, but for that impairment, would qualify to serve.
Doane said through Takano's office that he saw, growing up in a deaf family, the adversity that deaf people face every day.
"But more importantly, I was able to see the determination and perseverance that is necessary to serve as a leader in the Air Force. In fact, I credit my own determination to those experiences," he said.
Though being promoted as an Air Force pilot program, Takano said he would like it expanded to the other service branches if it proves successful.
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