Hearing Impaired FBI Agent Nicole Lopez Didn't Let Her Disability Stop Her From Achieving Her Dreams

Hearing loss didn't stop her.

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32-year-old Nicole Lopez always knew she wanted to be a federal law enforcement officer. When the FBI and Army gave her a hard time about joining because of her hearing loss — which she’s lived with since childhood — she didn’t let it stop her. She barely noticed the disability growing up. She credits her supportive single mother, who returned to graduate school later in life, for raising her and her younger brother with a strong work ethic. She never thought of herself as a trailblazer, but now she’s speaking up to share her story just in case there’s another struggling future officer out there in need of that boost of confidence. Who is Nicole Lopez? What’s the story behind the FBI agent with hearing loss?


1. As a child, Lopez just adapted to her hearing loss.

Nicole Lopez has had moderate hearing loss in her left ear since early childhood. Frequently, she would play sports without a hearing aid. She just had to learn how to tailor her approach to the games. She worked to sharpen her eyes and  her ability to pick up on other players’ body language, she told People in an interview. It wasn't until 2013, when she was 27, that she got a bone-anchored hearing aid surgically implanted. The BAHA is based on bone conduction and primarily suited for people with conductive hearing loss, unilateral hearing loss, single-sided deafness  and other types of mixed hearing losses for people who can’t otherwise have an in-ear or behind-ear aid.


2. When she was 17, she tried to enlist in the army.

The Iraq War had just begun. But the Army had stringent medical requirements and her hearing aid disqualified her. “That’s the first time in my life that I ever felt like this is something that was unreachable for me just because of my hearing loss,” Lopez said. She didn’t stop there, though: she applied for ROTC programs at various colleges. Included on that list was West Point, the country’s most esteemed military academy (which also turned her down based on her hearing). Eventually, she enrolled in and graduated from an ROTC program at Michigan Tech that granted her a hearing waiver. She also played volleyball as an undergraduate there.

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3. Her first assignment was as a platoon leader at Guantánamo Bay.

Upon graduation, she was commissioned in the army as a second lieutenant. She served as a military police officer at Guantánamo Bay, the American detention facility in Cuba (where many terror suspects and enemy combatants are kept). The military police was about as close as she could get to combat roles because at  the time, women were still banned from those. She was also applying to join the Cultural Support Team, an elite program that first gained traction in 2015, for female soldiers to go out on the front lines in spite of the combat ban. According to People, their units would “attach” with special operations forces in the line of fire, communicating with women on the ground in a way that was forbidden for male soldiers, because of local customs. “That was basically the coolest job I’m ever going to hold in the military,” said Lopez. “It was an amazing experience. Our program helped pave the way for a lot of what women are doing in the military now.” After Cuba, she returned to the States, until she was deployed to Iraq to close the last U.S.-led detention facility there.

​4. After her tour in Afghanistan, she returned home to the Midwest to pursue a job with the FBI.

In 2014, at age 28, she applied for the FBI, but faced issues again because of her hearing. They insisted she pass their hearing tests without the use of an aid. Ultimately, they turned her down, so she turned to the Hearing Loss Association of America for help with filing an appeal. “I had talked to a lawyer,” she said. “I found out there was a lot of veterans that were having the same issue where they were applying for federal law enforcement and they weren’t passing the hearing standards.”


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5. She finally found success in 2017, four years after she first applied.

Her admittance to the academy was a rare exception to the FBI’s rigorous medical requirements for new agents. She told People that as part of her appeal, she “attached basically a resume of everything I had done, proving that despite having hearing loss I can still perform the duties because my military job had what you would consider similar duties.” She served as an FBI special agent investigating violent crime and she excelled! “It was an even bigger accomplishment, basically being told that I wouldn’t be able to go to the academy and everything because of my hearing standard, but then to end up having the highest GPA in my class was like just even more amazing for me,” she says.


6. Right after graduation, she married her husband.

They first met at a draft party for the Minnesota Vikings. (Ironically, she wore a Bears jersey, and her roommate joked that “nobody was going to talk to her,” but she ended up meeting her future husband that night). Since joining the bureau, she has worked on a violent crime task force, including murder-for-hire and serial killer cases, child trafficking and bank robberies. The situations she handles aren’t all that stressful, but they are high-pressure. Lopez joked in an interview that the movie Miss Congeniality might have been her first exposure to the FBI. Recently, she went to speak at a camp for teenage girls interested in careers as first responders or in law enforcement. “I think so many women out there think you have to have perfect medical health, you have to have a certain degree and you have to have a certain list on your resume to have a career like I’ve had. And that’s just not true at all.” Damn straight!


Leah Scher is an ENFP finishing her degree at Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health.