Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Blind Mechanic Hires Deaf Assistant

Larry Woody shares his automotive know-how twice a week with his apprentice, though he's never seen the young man nor spoken directly to him.

Woody is blind. His apprentice is deaf.

"So much of it is done by feel anyway," he told the Eugene Register-Guard. "I use my hands to see what I'm doing now."

Woody lost his sight five years ago when a truck blew across the median on Interstate 5 and drove over his Toyota Celica. The accident nearly killed him.

With more than 30 years of fixing, racing and restoring cars, Woody vowed to return to work. With help from his wife Della and the Oregon Commission for the Blind, he achieved that goal less than a year after the accident.

The 46-year-old mechanic recently bought his own shop, D & D Foreign Automotive, and hired Otto Shima, 17, an apprentice from Cottage Grove High School.

Interpreter J.J. Johansson accompanies Shima, who was born deaf, on his twice-weekly visits to the shop. Her hands fly as she translates what Woody says. She then turns and voices Shima's reply.

They recently leaned under the open hood of a truck in need of clutch parts.

Woody felt among boxes until he grasped the right one. Removing a hose, he ran his fingers along it, telling Shima what role it played in the engine.

"He's just another student and I'm just another guy trying to help him," Woody said. "I kinda put the disabilities aside."

Shima said that Woody inspires him because "he never gives up."

Woody has learned Braile and how to navigate with the aid of a red-tipped cane.

About a year after his accident, he was behind the wheel of a race car. Taking direction from a friend through an earphone, he drove a buddy's car about 30 mph around the Cottage Grove Speedway track at least 25 times. The next summer he drove in a couple of demolition derbies in an Oldsmobile modified to allow a passenger to sit with him and be his eyes.

This month he got a spot on CBS Evening News. Since then he has received grateful calls from people, some blind, some not.

He said a caller from Florida said he had recently dropped out of flight school, too intimidated to take his final exam.

"He told me, `If you can do what you're doing in your condition, I have no excuse. I'm going back,'" Woody said. "That's what it's all about right there, helping someone I don't know."

Kathleen O'Gieblyn, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Eugene Oregon Commission for the Blind, worked with Woody following his accident. She called his story "extremely empowering."

Woody walks without hesitation through his shop. He handles the paperwork and billing with the help of a talking computer. He still changes fuel lines, adjusts carburetors and tinkers on his 1968 El Camino.

"Some people wake up and say, `Oh, man, I've gotta go to work,'" he said. "I get up and say, `Oh man, I get to go to work.'"

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

A dirty little trick I used to get my tax software free.