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Hearing loss in the Forces

Q. Hi Lindsay! I’m sixteen years old, and I have significant hearing loss in both ears. I read somewhere that they don’t let people with hearing loss become police officers, or join the military? Is this true? Isn’t that illegal? –Ben

Hi Ben,

The short, and somewhat crummy, answer to this question is yes; the military and police services require you to pass a hearing test in the recruitment process. According to the RCMP, their hearing requirements are: “Hearing loss no greater than 30 dB in the better ear in the 500 to 3,000 Hz frequency range. Hearing loss no greater than 30 dB in the worst ear in the range of 500-2,900 Hz and no more than 50 dB in the worst ear at 3,000 Hz.” Looking at hearing benchmarks for regional police officers across the country, they have similar requirements.

As for the Canadian military, they require a measured degree of “hearing acuity” (or accuracy) as well, at least to be able to see combat: it is required that you are able to hear and define audible voice and sounds over background noise. Additionally, one isn’t permitted to wearing hearing aids during this test, either.

If you have cochlear implants, this depends on how well your hearing interacts with your implants – as we know, some people hear different with different types of implants, depending on their condition.

Before you get totally bummed out, there are other options if you’re interested in working in law enforcement. Depending on where you live, some police and Canadian forces reserves welcome recruits with hearing loss – contact your local recruiting offices for more information. Similarly, there is a lot of other work in law enforcement that is just as important, exciting and rewarding. Any major police force requires specialists in lots of different things, including psychology, language translation, forensics, ballistics and community outreach. The same goes for the military.

The military and the police discriminating against people with significant hearing loss isn’t illegal in the strictest sense; it’s true that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms assures us the right to make life choices free from discrimination because of (what they refer to as) a “physical disability” (don’t get me started!). However, there are interpretations of the Charter in place that have not yet been successfully challenged in the court system to allow this right to be extended to all types of employment – sketchy, I know. Times do change; who knows what the next ten years will bring in terms of assistive technologies that can make our access to police and military services just as hassle-free as anyone else?

There are lots of possibilities for you, Ben -- good luck!