As an editor of “Modern Machine Shop,” I get to visit shops across the country to see how metalworking technologies are being applied in creative and innovative ways. Of course, some shop visits are more memorable than others. For example, my visit to the Seattle Lighthouse in Washington is one I won’t soon forget. The not-for-profit organization has a machine shop staffed primarily by those with significant vision and/or hearing impairments. Dubbed the “Boeing Shop,” it has supplied the largest American aircraft OEM with quality components for more than half a century.
After returning from my visit, I was asked by a number of people to describe how a shop for the blind differed from a “regular” one. The excerpt below offers a glimpse. (Here is the full story.)
“Its aisleways are a bit wider, and customary yellow safety lines have been built up slightly with concrete to help guide a person’s cane. Some work orders are printed in a larger-than-typical font size, while others are embossed with Braille symbols for fingertip translation. Additional lighting brightens machine workstations and illuminates cutting tools in action. The din of whirring spindles and buzzing light ballasts often includes the ‘beep’ of a modified edge finder signaling that it has contacted a part or fixture during job setup. Digital voices, beckoned with the touch of a button, can be heard relaying part measurements, machine axis positions or critical part program information to machine operators. Some workers talk to each other without saying a word.”
What caused me to reflect on this visit, which I took five years ago, was a related story I recently saw posted to various websites and referenced on blogs. That article explained how Kennewick, Washington’s Bernie Vinther didn’t let diabetes-induced blindness stop him from learning the machinist’s trade and converting the two-car garage in his backyard into a contract and hobby shop.
Kudos to Mr. Vinther. I’m glad his story is being passed along. His is an inspiring tale that deserves to be shared. After I read it, though, my mind returned to the Seattle Lighthouse to recall my experiences walking through that shop and chatting with the great people there before creating my story. Without actually visiting, there is no way I could have fully appreciated (and did my best to capture) what was going on there. I bet John Trumbo, the “Tri-City Herald” newspaper reporter who wrote about Mr. Vinther, feels much the same way.
So I consider myself lucky that I can take that initial step into a shop. Not everyone can.