SIGNews • November 2011 • 15
Aqua Hands Provides Scuba Diving Lessons and Trips for the Deaf Community Katherine Firkins SIGNews Staff Writer Looking for an opportunity to take scuba diving trips with other sign language users? To take open-water lessons with deaf instructors and become a certified diver? You are in luck! Thomas Koch, an adventurous diver who happens to be deaf, founded Aqua Hands in Clearwater, Fla. with the intention of giving deaf people full access to the scuba diving experience.
Birth of Aqua Hands
Koch noticed the gap in scuba diving opportunities for deaf people, especially those who have had the experience of being left out in pre-dive instructions and post-dive activities and dealing with limited interpreting services for open-water lessons. Koch realized he could reduce the gap and make a difference to deaf divers like himself. “I wanted to give the deaf commu-
nity the same access as hearing divers when they get dive briefs — this is where deaf people tend to be lost,” said Koch. “I didn’t want that to continue.” As a result, Koch became a certified PADI master scuba diver trainer instructor and launched Aqua Hands in May 2010. He handled all the business functions on his own for a year before he found the need to expand his services. Koch decided to hire one PADI master scuba diver trainer instructor Brad Cohen from San Diego, Calif. and two PADI open water scuba instructors Terric Stephens from Chicago, Ill. and Chris Zelnio from Philadelphia, Penn. in May 2011. All the instructors are deaf and fluent in ASL.
Scuba Diving Classes and Adventures
In summer and fall 2012, Aqua Hands plans to take divers who are sign language users, deaf or hearing, to six different hot scuba diving sites —
Passion for Scuba Diving
Thomas Koch the British Virgin Islands, Honduras, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, the Grand Cayman, and the Florida Keys. Aqua Hands will offer classes to participants who wish to learn how to dive and become certified PADI divers during the trips. Classes include PADI discover scuba diving, open water, advanced open water, rescue diver, and divemaster. Other services that Aqua Hands offers are first aid and CPR classes, scuba diving trip consultations, and school lectures.
Aqua Hands is passionate about bringing memorable scuba diving experiences to every ASL user. Koch is positive that “Once you’ve experienced an Aqua Hands expedition, you’ll never look at scuba diving the same again.” It seems like Aqua Hands aims for participants to relate to Jacques Cousteau’s famous quote: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Koch ended the interview with a powerful statement for SIGNews readers: “Don’t be afraid, take a dip! There is lots that you are missing out on with Mother Earth.” For more information on Aqua Hands, go to www.aquahands.com.
Partnership with Hands on Travel
Tom Koch teaches a set of new scuba divers at a local community pool.
Aqua Hands recently became partners with Hands on Travel, another deaf-owned business that provides guided tours of popular destinations in ASL. Koch said, “We want to help each other and be able to provide the best of both worlds — land and water activities.” Aqua Hands and Hands on Travel agreed to provide two trips for divers and non-divers next summer. The first tour will take place in Honduras in June 2012 and the second in Costa Rica in August 2012. Participants have the option of exploring the land or sea with guides who are fluent in ASL.
Koch in the ocean, scuba diving.