TCAT welding student hopes to inspire all to overcome obstacles

Published 9:48 am Friday, November 7, 2014

Photo by Bryce Phillips Student Bradley Ledford practices his welding at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology of Elizabethton.

Photo by Bryce Phillips
Student Bradley Ledford practices his welding at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology of Elizabethton.

For some, a disability can be a barrier. But one student at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology of Elizabethton has decided not to let anything stand in the way of his goals.
In May 2014, after deciding the electrician’s program was not for him, Bradley Ledford, who is deaf, began his journey into the world of welding.
“So, I was thinking about I wanted to do; I wanted to come to school, and so I started with the electricity class in January,” he signed. “And I really liked it. But, it just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t as interested in it as I thought I would be. So, I asked my instructor in electricity if I could kind of observe the welding class.”
After being okayed to observe the course, Ledford visited the classroom for three days.
“I really seemed to like it,” he said. “And, so, the school was really good to let me transfer over to the welding program.”
Shortly after he began his course work, Ledford was introduced to Carol Hammonds, who started working as interpreter in 2000. Today, Hammonds helps facilitate communication between Ledford, his instructor, and his classmates.
“I’m very blessed,” said Hammonds. “I get to work with a lot of interesting and inspiring people.”
At first Ledford had a big hurdle to leap, and it came in the form of the welder’s helmet, the large mask-like device that covers the wearer’s entire head. It blocks out the wearer’s peripheral vision, and since Ledford can’t communicate audibly, he relies heavily on his sight.
“When you have a welding hood on, and if you can’t hear, you are kind of in the dark, communication wise,” said Ledford’s instructor Dale Hicks.
But Ledford, Hammonds and Hicks refused to be deterred, and so they devised a system to ensure communication between Hicks and Ledford — even while Ledford was wearing the mask.
“What we have found that works pretty good, is prior to welding, we will do a mock up what we want to do,” said Hicks.
Once Ledford is under the hood, Hicks will tap him to let him know what he needs to do.
“I will tap him twice if he is going too fast,” he said. “And if he is going too slow I will tap him once.”
Hicks also adjusts Ledford’s arm periodically to ensure he is welding at the correct angle.
“What we thought was going to be an obstacle at the beginning, ended up not being a problem at all,” said Hammonds. “It worked as smooth as silk.”
According to Hicks, Ledford is a hard worker with a strong work ethic — something he believes has really helped Ledford excel in the classroom.
“Bradley is really an exceptional student,” he said. “I guess his motivation is a really big plus for him. He shows up everyday ready to learn.”
It is Ledford’s consistent and punctual attendance that makes Hicks feel he will not have a problem finding a job in the future.
“He is very eager,” he said. “He is here everyday. In today’s society and today’s workplace, attendance is a major problem.”
Not only has Ledford’s perseverance impressed those inside the classroom, it seems to have grabbed the attention of people outside the school as well.
Recently, he was given a Tweco® Fabricator® 211i, a high-end portable welding system, as a gift from an anonymous donor.
“Wow,” said Ledford, describing how he felt when he received the gift. “I was surprised. Mike Cole, who works in student services, came over and he wanted to make a presentation. And, when he said my name, I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to know who it was from, just so I would know who to thank.”
Ledford said that his interest in welding could be traced back to when he was 15 years old.
“I really do like welding,” said Ledford. “I’ve always watched my father weld, and I had quite an interest in it.”
So far, Ledford said, he has had a great experience at the school, and believes he is learning the skills he needs to find a job later on.
“I feel like it has been a very positive experience,” he said. “My goal here is to learn the proper way to weld, and I feel like I am getting that.”
Ledford also said he has a message for others who may be wary of coming to the school due to their disabilities.
“I want to encourage other deaf to come to the school and learn these trades,” he said. “It is so important that we go out into the world and make a difference so people will see that there is no difference between deaf and hearing people. We can all do the same job.
“And if anyone is interested in coming to welding, come on. Speak to the interpreter, or the instructor, or myself. I would love that,” he added. “I would love to show them around and get them interested like I am.”

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