- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - On Monday, Matt Kochie taught a group of students about the intricacies of computers without saying a word.

Kochie, who works in information technology at the Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf, showed the inside of a computer to a group of high school students who were either deaf or hard of hearing..

When discussing a motherboard, Kochie made hand gestures as an interpreter turned the sign language into words.

“What do mothers do,” Kochie signed. “They make sure everything is working together and that’s why they call this a motherboard.”

Kochie’s lesson was part of a special day called “STEM Wars,” when students with hearing issues learned about different fields in science, technology, engineering or math. “STEM Wars” was part of a weeklong camp at the University of Alabama to teach students with hearing issues the different careers that are available to them.

The camp is organized by the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, which works to find employment for people with disabilities. The career camp has been going on for four years.

“I think the important thing is that it allows them to financially create the life they want and to play on equal footing with others when it comes to career or salary,” said Bedarius Bell, state coordinator of the deaf/hard of hearing services in the agency.

In addition to computers, the eight-person group also learned about robotics on Monday. They also took part in hands-on practice with welding equipment. The group of students came from around the state to participate in the camp.

J.R. Iser, an independent welder based in Montgomery, said a career in welding can work for those with hearing issues. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, there are at least 83,376 people in Alabama between the ages of 18 and 64 with hearing disabilities.

“Most of the time when I weld, I have to put earplugs in, so they are more at an advantage than a disadvantage,” Iser said.

For Bell, career opportunities for those with hearing issues can be hard to find because of the communication barrier.

“Sometimes there is need for accommodation in the workplace and sometimes that may scare some employers off,” Bell said.

In addition, Bell said some students may be unaware of what kind of career they can have.

“With some of our students, they don’t know what’s out there, so exposing them to different types of jobs and training that is required to have a job like this is a great opportunity for them to start thinking ahead about their future,” he said.

Diane Mwai, a junior at Thompson High School in Alabaster, is deaf in one ear and wants to one day work as a lawyer or an engineer. Before Monday, Mwai did not know anything about welding, but was intrigued by the field after getting to work a weld torch.

“I thought it was really interesting and it’s interesting to be around other kids like me,” Diane said.

Andrew Tompkins, a junior at Baker High School in Mobile, cannot hear high-pitched noises and he said he liked what the camp does for people with hearing disabilities.

“You get to see what you can do,” he said.

The camp will continue throughout the week.

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