Air Force One: A Study on Incidental Learning by Doug Dittfurth

Air Force One: A Study on Incidental Learning

Doug Dittfurth, MEd – Texas BEI III/CIC

Intrigued by the challenge in defining how incidental learning plays a major role in our lives and why professionals working with people who are deaf or with various levels of hearing losses need to keep this in the forefront when advocating for services for this population, I wanted to find a way to get this message across. This is of special importance to me, as an advocate, to apply the concept of “incidental learning” in mental health counseling to emphasize that verbal knowledge is not connected to intelligence. 

One technique that has proven popular and successful is the sharing of the results of my “Air Force One” survey. I surveyed 40 people whose hearing status were thought by me as “normal” and 40 people whose hearing loss/deafness was known to me as being severe-to-profound from an early age. Both groups had an even mix of master/bachelor and/or high school degrees. Each subject (n = 80) was shown an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper onto which the words AIR FORCE-ONE had been printed. While reading the words, they were to spontaneously express the thoughts that came to their minds.

Of the 40 who were “hearing,” 100% relayed in one way or another it was the plane in which the President flew. Only one could remember how or 
when they actually learned this information. Of the 40 who were “deaf/had severe hearing loss,” fifteen percent more or less replied that it was the plane in which the President flew while eighty-five percent of the subjects replied with “military,” “first military,” “something to do with military,” or the like. 

Of the six individuals (congenital/early onset deafness/severe hearing loss) who knew the correct response, all readily told me the reason they had learned Airforce-One was the “President’s plane”; one stated they were an air force military “brat;” one learned of it when Airforce-One landed in their hometown and their father took them to see it as a middle school aged-child; another learned it as an adult when they viewed a captioned version of the movie, “Airforce-One;” one stated they were a social studies teacher and had only learned it as an adult; one replied, “I read everything I can;” and another replied that their mother had told them sometime prior to entering high school. As implied above, incidental learning plays a big role in the base fund of information we possess. Yet I, as a hearing individual, can learn several things daily on my short commute from my gym to my office by just listening to my car radio. Multiply that by a decade and you have not even begun to uncover the amount of incidental learning a deaf/severely hard-of-hearing person must make up to have the knowledge base and fund of information to be as competitive and as responsive as those who can hear.

Doug, who had been with the Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (DHHS) and the legacy agency Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TCDHH) since 1999, recently left his position there as Outreach Development Specialist to accept a position with the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). At DSHS, Doug is Coordinator of the Texas Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (TEHDI) – Newborn Hearing Screening program and is Team Lead for the Newborn Screening Support Group. 

Through Texas’ BEI, he holds III and CIC. He has completed post-graduate studies at the University of Texas/San Antonio (Public Administration), the University of Minnesota (Chemical Dependency Counseling for the Deaf) and Gallaudet University (Adult Community Programming). He has MEds in Counseling and Psychometrics from Midwestern State University and has a BSFA in Habilitation of the Deaf from Texas Christian University.

Airforce-One has previously been published in the ADARA Update, The Deaf Texan and the InterpreTexan and is being used by professionals across the United States to help hearing service providers understand the great impact of severe hearing loss/deafness on not only information in general but in language acquisition.

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