14:37 PM

Expanding the Tools of the Trade

A click rule and a talking tape measure. Beyond these lesser-known tools of the trade, the wood shop of Tennessee-based Industrial Arts Instructor, George Wurtzel, looks like any other. It is a measuring device like the click rule, however, that allows George - a woodworker, craftsman and licensed builder that is blind, to measure using sound, with each click marking increments of 1/16” (inch) on his wood block.

As both new and returning apprentices to the Marshall School of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeships begin their studies this fall, they, too, will be required to expand their toolboxes to make more room for a device that, while not so new, they may find themselves using in new ways: their computers. Combined with on-site instruction, apprentices will now be logging onto computers to watch lectures that were previously delivered in person as a result of the shift to online instruction in the wake of Covid-19.

Study groups that previously formed spontaneously in class and migrated to the tables that lined the hallway outside of the library at the Stoney Creek campus will now have to form through virtual groups created in platforms like Zoom, Teams or MyCanvas, the learning management system used at Mohawk. The computer, tablet or, even, cell phone will be harnessed in new ways by the incoming apprentices, who will now be able to rewind lectures that have been pre-recorded to watch them again, take notes from virtual white boards and type questions in chat rooms.

This shift to online learning means apprentices that prefer learning by observing and doing rather than reading may find themselves expanding their toolboxes even further. Features such as the immersive reader in MyCanvas, which converts the text on the screen into speech, will allow apprentices that find themselves reading text over and over again to listen to what is written on the screen, thereby saving them time. A reader pen (a pen with a scanner in the tip that reads the text that a person highlights) will achieve the same result with printed material, such as their Code or textbooks.

Like the click rule and the talking tape measure, text-to-speech software and reader pens are lesser-known tools of the trade that allow apprentices to perform essential skills needed for the job, both on campus and off. Professor Rick Dupp has invited apprentices in the Industrial Mechanic Millwright program to bring their reader pens to class, enabling them to access reading support while he teaches them or gives them a test in the classroom. This portable device, which is commercially available for purchase, helps students to be successful both at Mohawk and beyond, as apprentices can use it to read textbooks at school and manuals on the job, alike. With text-to-speech features already integrated into devices like computers and cell phones, these tools of the trade are readily available to apprentices who may need them both while they study and work.

As the workforce demand for skilled trades increases and recruitment efforts expand to include people with disabilities, it may become more commonplace to find tradespeople like George not only entering the trades but thriving in them thanks to skills such as measuring by sound and touch rather than sight. With nearly 50 years of experience that include a commission to build a custom coffee table for famous musician, Stevie Wonder, and woodworking classes that teach students (blind and blindfolded) to use their hands and ears rather than their eyes to build designs, George’s success speaks to the possibilities that lie in the trades for people of different abilities, given the right tools of the trade.

To learn more about George, see George Wurtzel’s website. Students can contact the IT Help Desk for assistance with text-to-speech features on their devices. Students that have difficulty with reading, who suspect they may have a learning disability or have been diagnosed with a learning disability and require assistance with reading (such as a reader pen) can also contact Accessible Learning Services.

About the writer:

Joanne Kedzierski is a Accessibility Counsellor at the Stoney Creek campus.

If you have questions about this article you can contact Joanne by emailing her at joanne.kedzierski@mohawkcollege.ca