March 9, 2012
Many weld instructors will tell you that the ability to hear plays a critical role in developing a skilled welder. But a deaf student from Tennessee is proving that character traits like determination and a strong work ethic are more important. It also helps to have a creative, patient teacher and a dedicated support staff.
It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you do with what you have. Aspiring pipeline welder Dakota Thompson, 20, knows that all too well. Thompson was born deaf, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dream to become a welder.
Thompson has been intrigued by welding ever since he was a child and visited his uncle, who was a welder. That aspiration intensified when his school, Tennessee School for the Deaf, orchestrated a visit for Thompson to Tennessee Technology Center of Knoxville, where he met Steve Linn. Thompson enrolled in the program under Linn in September 2011. Two trimesters into his training at the center, Thompson has emerged as one of Linn’s most disciplined, driven, and promising students.
Before Thompson enrolled, Linn had found success in teaching welding to two other deaf students. At this point he was familiar with and comfortable teaching by using alternative methods and communication means.
“I have to be superflexible in the way that I teach. I’ve got to look at the situation and figure out different ways to teach because the standard way of teaching out of a book isn’t always the way it’s going to work,” Linn said.
An interpreter, Kathleen Scruggs, who has a degree in English literature, was contracted to be the conduit between Linn and Thompson.
“This was my first postsecondary interpreting job, and it was my very first experience in a welding job. I’ve never even walked into a welding shop before,” Scruggs explained.
Before the start of the trimester, Linn and Scruggs met to establish verbal and nonverbal cues that they would use with Thompson—things like gestures for grinding and cutting. Each morning before class begins the two meet to go over the day’s schedule. Linn then demonstrates the day’s task to Thompson and conveys feedback to Scruggs to relay to him.
“It can be tough at times, but other times it’s a pretty smooth process. It would surprise most people how smooth it is,” Linn said.
When Thompson is under the hood, he can’t adjust his technique, his travel speed, his gun angle, or anything else Linn wants him to correct based on verbal coaching or Scruggs’ visual signs. So Linn takes matters into his own hands, literally.
“I will grab his hands and we’ll weld together. We’ll tag-team it where he’ll have two hands on the stinger and I’ll have my two hands on his gloves. It’s like two people welding with one rod. After I get through with that, I make sure he understands what we just did and I’ll have Kathleen give him feedback.”
Added Scruggs, “We work as a team to make sure he knows exactly what’s expected. If Steve wants Dakota to do something, and even if I interpret it, he may not understand all of the terminology. I’ll take time with Steve to clarify, and then I’ll take the time with Dakota to relay the clarifications that I gained. But it’s been a learning process for me as well.”
The ability to hear is important in welding, especially in the early stages of a welder’s development. Sometimes the sound that emanates when running a bead provides the first clue to a potential problem. This is a signal that at times many welders take for granted, said Linn. But for Thompson, his inability to hear has only heightened his other senses.
“A lot of times in welding you’ve got to be able to hear that rod, but Dakota says he can actually feel when it’s running right and when it’s not,” Linn said.
Both Linn and Scruggs credit Thompson’s deafness for keeping him on task, because he isn’t as easily distracted by his surroundings as the other students are; this doesn’t mean he’s oblivious to his surroundings, however.
“He knows everything that’s going on around him in the shop. He keeps his attention on what he’s working on, and he doesn’t get distracted by people talking and shootin’ the bull. He stays focused. He’s actually one of my best welders right now because he stays so focused,” Linn said.
Thompson has taken a particular interest in pipe welding using shielded metal arc welding and tested recently to earn certification in the 6G position. He hopes to one day travel and work on a pipeline. For now, Thompson, Linn, and Scruggs have found a system that proves that it isn’t so much about what you have, it is, instead, more about what you do with what you have.
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