Following the PADI Course Director Training Course (CDTC) in the Dominican Republic which took place in June this year, Thomas J Koch became PADI’s very first deaf Course Director.
The CDTC trains experienced PADI Master Instructors from all over the world in the responsibilities and duties of a PADI Course Director. PADI Course Directors teach PADI Instructor Development Courses (IDCs) and other instructor-level training, and thus are the industry’s most influential leaders and role models. Candidates use what is a lifetime of experiences and knowledge to earn this rating.
Thomas began diving in the mid 90’s and after gaining Open Water and Advanced Open Water certifications with another agency and discovered his passion for the underwater world. In his early diving days, after much searching between dive shops to find someone who would teach him until the rescue course, he learned that PADI materials have subtitles for many of their training DVD’s which help him understand the material. Thomas made the switch to PADI.
While training to become a PADI Divemaster which took him several years, he made up his mind to become a dive instructor, realising he could give better direct communication to a deaf/signer student than any other instructor could.
“My biggest struggle was finding an instructor who would have enough patience with me,” Thomas explains, “I wanted to bring the deaf community to the scuba world without them having to experience what I did: frustration”.
Thomas became a PADI Divemaster in 2009 and in 2010, a PADI Instructor. That same year he established his own company, Aqua Hands in Florida specifically to train deaf divers, either in entry/beginner levels – or right through to becoming a PADI Instructor.
To date, he has taught and certified around 90% deaf students and 10% hearing and explains that the biggest challenge deaf divers come up against is being questioned whether or not they can dive.
“That’s why I always encourage avid deaf divers to take the PADI Master Scuba Diver program, so when they go to a dive shop they will respect them more!” It’s sad that we have to be an MSD to prove we are great divers”, he adds. “I have seen situations and heard stories where most of them struggle to actually get to dive. It’s a big deal thing when the deaf divers achieve divemaster level and other divers just want to be their friends. They’re always amazed how we can handle ourselves underwater.”
Thomas continues, “The main thing is – we do not use signals underwater – we have a conversation underwater. One good example… deaf divers get back on the dive boat quietly and the hearing divers get back on the boat all excited and chattering. The hearing divers have had to hold all those amazing things they saw until after the dive and say, “Did you see that beautiful fish, did you see this, did you see that….” As for the deaf divers, we’ve already talked about it while diving.”
On becoming a PADI Course Director, Thomas realised that a huge challenge was ahead of him. “I know that I am the one and only deaf Course Director in the PADI organization globally.”
“I want to empower more deaf instructors around the world to bring the deaf community to the PADI community. There have been many occasions where deaf people came to me saying “my dive shop won’t teach me” or “do you think I should go to the Handicapped Dive Organization”, etc. I do not want them to go through that experience. I took a tough path to get to PADI Divemaster. My mission is to have the deaf community see PADI as the deaf friendly community, and that PADI welcomes the deaf with open arms. I have taught over 400 diver certifications in 5 years and it wasn’t easy! I need to add more deaf instructors so the deaf community can take their classes with direct communication.
“I want the dive industry to see what a huge advantage it is having deaf/signer divers or deaf/signer professional divers in their industry.”
In August 2015, Thomas conducted his first PADI Instructor Development Course in Florida. Among the group of 12 candidates who attended the IDC and subsequent PADI Instructor Exam, 4 new deaf PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors were born!
Thomas intends to travel around the world and teach more deaf instructors. He has plans to conduct more PADI Instructor Development Courses in the USA and the Asia Pacific region.
PADI 5 Star Instructor Development centres are welcome to contact Thomas Koch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org telephone: +1 (727) 551-4426 or visit: www.aquahands.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/AquaHandsLLC