Keith Nolan, 29, of California, is angling to join the Army. He fought through the ROTC and impressed his instructors so much they gave him a uniform. So why isn't he being ushered in by the nearest recruiter? They say: because he's Deaf. I say: That's not a good answer anymore.
I'm going to fight my instincts on this one. I'm ready to fight the logic I'm being presented with. I'm ready to say, He's not asking for active duty! He just wants a desk job! He's from an active family background of independent Deaf folk who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps!
But this is a defensive stance for a writer, and part of me rebels at taking such a stance, because he SHOULD have the right to join the army in whatever capacity; we have the technology to make that possible, and he certainly has the ability and intelligence. And even without the technology, I honestly believe ability is enough; we can make up for our lack of hearing, and our abilities in other areas—especially visual, but also technological—makes us a potential benefit that shouldn't be overlooked, if one is smart enough to be able to deal with a diverse group of people.
...I honestly believe ability is enough; we can make up for our lack of hearing, and our abilities in other areas—especially visual, but also technological—makes us a potential benefit that shouldn't be overlooked, if one is smart enough to be able to deal with a diverse group of people.
Now, if I make that statement in conversation—that Deaf people should have the right to join the army—I'm always given stories. People give me hypothetical situations where a Deaf soldier misses a whistle or something and as a result everybody dies. Hearing people can't imagine being Deaf—just like men couldn't imagine being women in the army, for example. Problem with this is I can hurl hypotheticals right back - what if you need a wider field of vision - better pattern recognition - what if there's so much gunfire your entire troop is deafened or concussed - who would you want at your side - a Deaf soldier used to fighting for himself, from a tradition of making things happen, or some hearing guy whose previous loudness levels haven't exceeded Lil Wayne mp3s and who runs about clutching his ears! How about guys in camoflage—pretty sure we'd have a better chance identifying them and willing to test that in the field! What about intelligence? Deaf folk can and do exist in other countries—and we can go places, begging and signing, where no other group of people can go. We aren't just a group of disabled people whining for coins in exchange for alphabet cards on the street anymore. We are now a sophisticated culture with threads and chains around the world. (And don't get me started on our skill with technology; if you can chat, use video, or download on it, Deaf people probably know how to use it. We're the communication harbingers of the world. They should keep us on staff just so they know what to buy next.)
Clearly, sometimes it takes Deaf people to see the potential of Deaf people. All of these hypothetical arguments are based on what hearing people would do if they magically became Deaf. They're not based on the experiences of people who've lived Deaf lives, whether we have CIs, hearing aids, or use ASL. All kinds of Deaf people learn our limits and often teach ourselves how to compensate for them. Just as any other group does. This is common sense—and we shouldn't be holding ourselves hostage to the expectations of others. We'd come up with ways to locate that whistle or the people who made it—and, as it has in sports and computing, our inventions would probably revolutionize the world. (The football huddle, anyone?)
Our army's administration continually stalls at diversification. The "other races" got in. The women. Gays and lesbians don't have to keep it secret any longer. Even people with flat feet made a comeback. Now DEAF people want in? But this hysteria is counterproductive. Every time we've changed and grown the population of our army, it's become stronger, not weaker. People find their own roles. Women might be physically weaker than men... but they find ways to work out and overcome that weakness, or use tools, as we apes are wont to do. If I were a commander, I'd want a trained, seasoned group... of diverse people with diverse abilities, talents and skills. That would guarantee our ability to evolve and meet any situation.
Every time we've changed and grown the population of the army, it's become stronger, not weaker.
Online, some have responded that there's plenty of "exceptions" to joining military service—and this is true. But the military evaluates and re-evaluates these exceptions all the time, as my list of diversification showed. There are Deaf people I'd rather have at my side in a difficult situation than many hearing people I know. Maybe, if Deaf people are struggling to even get a desk job, it's time to make the case and re-evaluate this one.
In Keith Nolan's case, he's looking for a position in military intelligence. He's not looking to be on the front lines—though from his face, he looks like the kind of guy I'd rather have on my side. This means there's even more places he can be used—and none of those front-line hypotheticals even apply (although, as I've pointed out, maybe they shouldn't, anyway.) I hope that military leaders see his potential benefit and stop seeing his difference as a barrier; it's a potential asset. Keith Nolan stands as a shining example of going against the odds.
ABOUT JOSEPH SANTINI
Joseph Santini is a writer, artist, teacher and activist in the New York City area. A graduate of Bristol University, he has studied under Dr. Paddy Ladd and written, filmed and drawn on Deaf issues, education and social issues for many years. His work has been published in the New York Times, been seen on several blogs, and he was named Best Emerging Artist at the Superfest Film Festival for the short film "...let us spell it out for you" encouraging support for Deaf arts. Follow his news tweets @jrscoyote.