Enlisting in the military isn’t something people take lightly. It’s a big commitment that requires extreme discipline, patriotism, and a willingness to serve. The military isn’t for everyone—I’m certainly not cut out for it. But what about people who are ready to work and are committed to serving their country, but are forbidden from doing so because of a simple hearing test?
This is the reality for thousands of deaf people in America. Currently, people who do not pass their hearing test are barred from enlisting in the military—this was not the case until recently. Deaf people have served in various positions all the way up until WWII.
To the military: you’re going to ban an eager, brilliant mind from serving his or her country in the military because you don’t want to make minimal accommodations? I would argue that this is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in employment. The military is discriminating against a deaf person because of their disability.
Let's break this down: "Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others." The United States military certainly has more that 15 employees. In fact, the military employs over 1.7 million people. Title I also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations, unless it creates an undue hardship.
I have no ill will against the military: my father was in the Air Force for 21 years, and I have great respect for people who choose to serve in the military. The job of the military is to protect and serve the American people. ADA laws do the same thing: they protect and serve the American people from discrimination, even from the government itself. If there is no undue hardship, then the military is breaking the law, plain and simple.
The main argument against deaf people entering the military, and thus creating an "undue hardship"? Currently, all service members must be able to deploy at any time. I’m not arguing with the ban on combat roles: in the field, being able to hear shouted instructions could mean the difference between life and death.
However, 80% of military positions are non-combat. This includes the medical field, cyber security, intelligence, and countless other areas that could easily be accommodated. Additionally, a report by the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) stated that it would be “feasible to establish pools of personnel exempt from deployment”.
The report goes on, though, to complain about the extra work that “leadership” has to do to find replacements if a deployment were required for the service members who could not deploy. This argument is ridiculous and grasping: if deployable and non-deployable members were listed in separate databases, there would be no scrambling at the last minute to find replacements. You would already know the number of service members available for deployment. Clearly, this is not a hardship at all.
Additionally, the whining about the "extra work" that would have to be done is ridiculous. It's your job to protect and serve. 53% of the annual discretionary spending budget goes towards the military, and you honestly can't take the time to create a separate database? Its
The other “issue” with having deaf people in the military is security concerns: Deaf people require interpreters or other assistive services to be able to communicate fully with their coworkers. The problem with this, opponents say, is that bringing in someone to interpret sensitive military material is a security threat. However, this is not and should not be an issue. There are many Deaf professionals who work in numerous professions with varying levels of security restrictions who have a designated interpreter or team of interpreters. The company simply puts the interpreters through the same vetting process that all of its employees go through. Besides that, interpreters are bound to a Code of Professional Conduct (CPC), and could lose their license and face legal action if they violate it. The same thing goes for assistive services: Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) providers are equally as easy to screen.
Without the defense of an "undue hardship", the US military is out of excuses. Excluding deaf people from the military is asking for a lawsuit that I don't expect them to win. The courts are not kind to those who discriminate against people with disabilities, and the military has been forced by the courts to change its policies before. Women weren’t allowed to enlist until 1948, when it was decided that the benefit of having women in the military far outweighed the risks. It’s up to the military to utilize all its available resources, and this includes personnel. If they can’t or won’t employ valuable members of society who are willing to serve their country, maybe it’s time we reevaluate the policies—and people—that we have in place.