Air Force Legislation Introduced

Senator, Author of Landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, Moved to Introduce Bill After Meeting Highly-Qualified, Deaf ROTC Candidate Denied the Opportunity to Attend Officer Candidate School

WASHINGTON, D.C.—As the Senate considers the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senate author of the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, introduced legislation that would create a small demonstration program for 15-20 deaf and hard-of-hearing men and women to enter the Air Force’s Basic Officer Training course or the Commissioned Officer Training course at Maxwell Air Force Base. The individuals who participate in this demonstration program will meet all the essential qualifications for accession as an officer in the Air Force, except for the one related to not having a hearing impairment.

“Individuals with disabilities can meaningfully contribute to our Armed Forces and should have the opportunity to do so,” said Harkin, who is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “While there may be hesitation among the service branches in having individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing serve in the active military, I know—just as we have found under the ADA for the last 23 years—people with disabilities can accomplish great things if they are provided with the same opportunities the rest of us take for granted. 

“If this program is successful, as I believe it will be, then we will have created an opportunity for talented individuals that are deaf or hard-of-hearing in the military,” Harkin added. “We will have also reiterated our commitment to equal opportunity for all Americans, including people with disabilities.”

Harkin was moved to introduce the legislation after meeting Keith Nolan, a young man who is deaf and whose life goal is to be a military officer.  Keith enrolled in and completed the first two levels of Army ROTC in California. As an ROTC cadet, Keith participated in all classes, labs, and physical training. He earned a German Army Forces Badge for Military Proficiency, becoming the only cadet in his squad to get the highest decoration. However, Keith was not allowed to continue in ROTC due to Department of Defense rules that exclude individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. If not for Department of Defense rules excluding individuals who are deaf, Keith would have qualified for Officer Candidate School. 

From a press release by the Harkin Press Office, December 19, 2013 Contact 202-224-3254 for more information.

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