Deaf students, instructor learn plenty in auto repair class

Don Twomey of Twomey Auto Works – Austin Texas,  could barely keep up with his students as they fiercely blasted the rust off a 1977 El Camino with sanders. Trotting among eight teenagers who have hearing loss, Twomey showed them how to run their hands along the car’s body to locate dents and then how to smooth the bumps with
plastic filler.

Since January, he has been the volunteer teacher for an
auto repair class in a garage at the Texas School for the Deaf.

“It’s kind of refreshing,” said Twomey, who owns Twomey Auto Works, a body repair shop on South Congress Avenue. “These kids help each other a lot more than other
people I’ve worked with. They are smart and intuitive.”

The school is across the street from Twomey’s shop. Working with the school, Twomey said, is an “easy fit.”

One of his employees is deaf and began working for him 10 years ago after
graduating from the school, Twomey said.

“I have learned a lot from him,”  he said.

Because of Twomey’s proximity to the school and his experience working with an employee who has hearing loss, the school asked him to teach the class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, said Claire Bugen, the school’s superintendent.

Bugen said, “Twomey has a wonderful style with the students.”

“He is easygoing, uses humor and is not afraid to give his beginning sign
language a try,” Bugen said. “Often the class interpreter indicates she
has nothing to do because he does so well with the students.”

Twomey said he has learned a few words in sign language.
“I’ve learned how to say ‘old,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘bad,’ ” he said, grinning.

His eight students, speaking through interpreter Theresa Goodnight during one of their
classes last week, had nothing but praise for Twomey.

“He doesn’t sit back,” said Kevin Ruffin, an 18-year-old who said he plans to be a football coach. “He gets very involved. It’s like he’s one of us.”

Though Twomey doesn’t know sign language, it’s not a problem because he teaches much of the class through gestures, Ruffin said.

“He’s not as strict as some of our other teachers,” said
19-year-old Chase Billings, who said he enrolled in the class because his mother wants him to learn how to fix her car, which was recently involved in a wreck.

Emmanuel Trevino, a 17-year-old who wants to get a  job at an auto body repair shop,
said he wants to share what he has learned from Twomey with his family.

“This is my number one favorite class,” he said.

Rocky Gillam, 17, said he has been able to fix the dents
in a Dodge pickup.

Twomey said the skills he is teaching the students, including painting and polishing a
car, are just an introduction to the auto repair business. Twomey has provided the car and his own tools for the class.

Eventually, the students will repaint the vehicle, which has flat tires and an engine that does not work, and enter it into a car show at the school in the fall.

Twomey said teaching the class gives him a break from his business, where the phones are constantly ringing.

“It’s good therapy for me,” he said.