Thomas J Koch, first deaf PADI Course Director

DR CDTC 2015
PADI Course Director Training Course 2015 DR,

Back in June, I was lucky enough to complete my Course Director Training in the Dominican Republic. At the start of the course I had first day nerves. It took me back to the first day of my Open Water course and especially to the first day of my Instructor Development Course. As we went through introductions, I soon started to realise how easy I had it, as more and more CD candidates had translators with them. I could only imagine the anxiety they were feeling on the first day. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man (Jeffrey Dunlap) with his back to the speaker, flying his hands around. I soon released he was signing to a candidate (Thomas J Koch).
I also noticed Thomas looked the most relaxed in the room.

Thomas J Koch
Thomas J Koch

Having taught a couple of deaf students in the past, I knew Thomas would be as good as all of us in the water. Being a CD isn’t about being a great diver under water, it’s about being able to communicate information and expectations in a constructive and positive way.  Over the next 10 stressful days for me, and seemingly relaxed days for Thomas, you could quite clearly see this wasn’t going to be a problem for him. Looking in from the outside, the CDTC seemed quite easy for Thomas. His group always seemed to be having the most fun and, in my humble opinion, had the best marketing plans out of all the groups. If Thomas found the CDTC as easy as he made it look, Jeffrey and April Dunlap would of played a very important part as his translators.

April Dunlap
April Dunlap
Helping with dive briefings
Helping with dive briefings

Below is an interview with PADI Course Director Thomas Koch.

PT: “Congrats on completing the CDTC. You are the first ever deaf PADI CD. When and why did you start diving?”

TK: “I went to Sonny Carter Training Facility in 1995.  The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory is an astronaut-training facility operated by NASA and located near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.  I wanted to take scuba classes and be able to work at Sonny Carter Training Facility one day!  However, I took a different path and became a Course Director.


PT: “We at PADI are glad you did! Who was your dive instructor for your open water course?

TK: “Ed Wieliczkiewicz, NAUI Instructor.  He was the only person who accepted me as a deaf person taking his class. I have to thank him because it starts from Open Water to move up to the next level. I took Open Water and Advanced Open Water in two weekends. Then I decided to apply for more courses because I was so into it. My passion is for the underwater world.”

PT: “When and why did you become a PADI diver, and how did the materials measure up?”

TK: “Again, I was still searching for a dive shop to take me in.  I moved from Texas to Washington, DC. The frustration came back. Then after a lot of checking around, I went to one shop and learned how PADI materials have subtitles for every DVD until you reach the Divemaster Course, so I decided to switch from NAUI to PADI.”

PT: “When did you become a dive instructor?”

TK “I decided to become dive instructor after few years of assisting and being a tank donkey and realizing I could give better direct communication between myself to another deaf/signer student than any other instructor. I wanted to bring the deaf community to the scuba world without them having to experience what I did: frustration. When I was looking for a place to learn to dive, they kept sending me to HSA, DDI, IAHD or other Handicapped Dive Organizations. I tried to educate those dive shops, explaining how we don’t need any assistance underwater because we could fully communicate underwater and be able to solve any problem underwater. It was us who needed to be patient with those dive instructors who cannot sign or communicate fully underwater.”

PT: “Why did it take so long?”

TK: “After being a Divemaster Candidate for 7 years (!!), my biggest struggle was finding an instructor who would have enough patience with me, because it would take lot of time to communicate. I went to 4 or 5 different dive shops trying to finish my Divemaster requirements. Finally, I finished and moved forward.”


PT: “How long have you now been teaching?”

TK: “I have been teaching for 12 years! Officially however, I’ve only been teaching for 5 years.  The other 7 years I was the middleman for the dive instructors to deaf students, so I was pretty much doing the work for the dive instructors who could hear perfectly. Yet it was hard to complete the Divemaster program because the hearing instructor felt it was so hard to communicate, and it was the reason I decided to become a dive instructor myself.”

PT: “What % of your students are Deaf?”

TK: “I have taught and certified around 90% deaf and 10% hearing, but as for the IDC I have assisted, it was closer to 95% hearing and 5% deaf. I am looking forward to August IDC where I will have four new deaf Instructors, which is 33% of the total on the IDC.”

PT: “What challenges do deaf certified divers have when diving?”

TK: “The biggest challenge is being questioned whether or not we can dive?!? That is why I always encourage those avid deaf divers to take the Master Scuba Diver program, and when they go to a dive operation, they will respect them more! Sadly however, we have to be a “MSD” to prove we are great divers. Often, I have heard or seen stories where most of them struggle to actually get to dive. After the Divemaster and other divers just want to be their friends.  They’re all amazed how we can handle ourselves underwater. Yes, the main thing is we do not use signals underwater. We have a conversation underwater. One good example: deaf divers get on the boat quietly and the hearing divers get on the boat talking so much. The hearing divers have to hold all those amazing things they saw until they get on the boat and say, “Did you see that beautiful fish, did you see… did you see….” As for the deaf divers, we already talked about it while diving.”

PT: “What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while diving?”

TK: “We laugh so much it can make us use up the air. There are so many funny things happening during my classes or guides. So which is the funniest thing? I could say, one hearing dive instructor approached me and said you’re so loud!! I was puzzled? He said you love to talk and you still talk underwater!!! Can’t you just be quiet?! Ha.”


PT: “You were quite loud on the CDTC. ;o) What are your plans now?

TK: “A huge challenge is coming in front of me. I know that I am the one and only Deaf Course Director in PADI worldwide. I want to empower more deaf instructors around the world to bring the deaf community to the PADI community. There are many stories out there where deaf people came to me saying “my dive shop won’t teach me” or “do you think I should go to the Handicapped Dive Organization”, etc. I do not want them to go through that experience again. I took a tough path to get to Divemaster. My mission is to have the Deaf community see PADI as the deaf friendly community, and that PADI welcomes the deaf with open arms. I have taught over 400 certifications in 5 years and it was hard! I need to add more deaf instructors so the deaf community can take their classes with direct communication. I am making plans to travel around the world and teach more deaf instructors.  I know I will be doing 4 to 5 IDCs here in US and possibly one in Thailand, one in Malta or Red Sea and one somewhere in Central America.”

PT: “What would you like to see happen to the dive industry to help get more Deaf people diving?”

TK: “I want the dive industry to see how what a huge advantage it is having deaf/signer divers or deaf/signer professional divers in their industry. One testimonial I want to share:”

Testimonial: Jennifer & Lyle Vold – “Tom was already by my side…”

I got certified to be able to join friends on their scuba trips at a destination wedding – it was not something I had always dreamed of doing. I had some concerns but was up for the adventure. Let me tell you – Tom was such a good teacher that I ended up doing a few extra dives to get my Advanced Open Water certification and added on a Nitrox certification too!

He is very knowledgeable and has an approach to teaching that encourages us to think clearly, analyze our situations, and above all how to be safe — all so that we can be confident divers when we are ready to go out on our own.

On one dive, I started to ascend too fast and my ears started to hurt. I knew to go back down, slowly, until my ears felt better, but unfortunately went too far down too fast. The pain increased and just when I started to have a hint of panic, Tom was already by my side, bringing me to the right depth, telling me what to do. He was able to communicate clearly and calmly since we both use ASL. I don’t know what I would have done if I had a hearing instructor who didn’t know how to sign. I watched other divers on our trips, trying to gesture to communicate under water and felt bad for them – with Tom, he could tell us about the fish and plants, gave us detailed instructions and tips on how to improve our skills.

Overall, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be able to communicate clearly, effectively, and above all, calmly when under water – for instruction, information, and for our safety.

I can’t recommend Tom and Aqua Hands highly enough – like another customer said, GO for it!

-Jennifer Vold – coda CODA: Children of Deaf Adults (

Washington, DC

KT: “It is a huge community I need to educate. I know they might have never met a deaf person, so it is something they are very stand offish about. So my big job is to educate the scuba world about the deaf community and the deaf divers. They would be amazed or not.”

PT: “Thank you Thomas and congratulations again. I know you are willing to teach IDC all over the world. How can IDC centers around the world get hold of you?

Academic presentation CDTC 2015
Academic presentation CDTC 2015
Marketing presentation at the CDTC 2015
Marketing presentation at the CDTC 2015








+1 (727) 551-4426

 Paul Tanner

Don’t miss out on 2015 PADI Member Forums

Jump right into a fresh start of 2015 with exciting updates in our PADI Member Forums conducted by our Regional Managers and PADI Staff in Asia Pacific.

“exciting changes to the Online Processing Center”


As usually we are happy to inform you with interesting statistics about the past year together with Marketing efforts.

The main focus of this years PADI Member Forums are the exciting changes to the Online Processing Center and all the Digital Products available to serve your customers with more options to “GET there PADI”

Starting from changes on the new PADI  e-learning where we are able to provide you now with more options for both the Dive Center and your students. We are also covering our new and exciting Certification Paks that allow you to have a Online and Offline options.

“Interesting and new products in our Touch Family”

ReActivate_header_Chair_600x2501Interesting and new products in our Touch Family with the Open Water Course Touch the Equipment Specialty Touch and the ReActivate will be another topic we address in great detail and explain how you will be using this product replacing Scuba Review.

So don’t miss out and join us at the 2015 PADI Member Forums in Asia Pacific. Contact your PADI Regional Manager or the office for Dates in your area. 

What is it like for a woman to become a PADI Pro in India?

Neela, who recently became a PADI OWSI in Pondicherry, India with PADI 5 Star IDC Facility Temple Adventures and Platinum Course Director Mark Soworka, recalls her experience, and reveals what it was like from a woman’s perspective.

India is often known as a place of unpredictability, with perhaps the only constant the never-ending sense of change, which usually comes bereft of surprise and filled with commotion. The sheer magnitude of India’s population, the whirling chaos and the many layers of grime on her streets often allow little room to create a positive opinion, especially among those who believe in first impressions.  Once given a chance, however, India is ready to give you a home, keep you safe, and consider you one of her own. Unless, of course, you are most unfortunate, even cursed, to be born a woman here.


As a child, I grew up in Chennai, a sprawling city on the East Coast of the country. It never occurred to me then, that one day my most crucial choices in life would be determined by my gender. I was not brought up to think that way, but as soon as I was old enough to understand my own responsibilities, I realized that being a girl was a hindrance –  it became something to be “unproud”, almost ashamed of. My daily activities would be limited by virtue of my sex, and my identity soon began to take its shape around it, much to my alarm. In university, I was told on my very first day in class, that it was unbecoming of me to speak so loud and bold, not because it was impolite in general, but because as a young woman, it was shameful to attract attention to myself. When walking alone on the street, men would sneer, stare and whip out their cell-phones to take my picture, in an (often successful) attempt to provoke me. Several little incidents like these would soon add up in my mind to form one big question – when would this change?

That was when I decided that irrespective of what the notions in this country believed about my abilities, the change I desired was one that only I could bring about. In December 2013, with a devil-may-care sort of attitude (quite unbecoming of the Indian woman in me, I might add), I signed up for the PADI Open Water Course at Temple Adventures, a Dive School in the town of Pondicherry, three hours from home. The experience was so fulfilling that I kept coming back, until ten months later, I was sitting for my IDC, alongside three other candidates whose experience far exceeded mine.

Since then, it has only been a crazy uphill journey – crazy, not only because it has brought me to a sense of success and fulfilment in what I do, but also because of the added sense of accomplishment that I had achieved this as a woman and normally this is never easy or straightforward. Pondicherry, though relatively more open-minded than my hometown, was still unaccustomed to the idea of a woman diving professional. Several sceptical customers questioned my abilities, my integrity and sometimes assumed that I was unsuitable for this job as it requires so much physical strength and endurance. Such attitudes often made it that much harder, for I l second-guessed myself several times and I half believed their words.  A few, however, saw me as a role model – to them, I was the change that this country needed. Mothers have told me that their young daughters want to come back to dive because they were amazed at my boldness.

Several men who have struggled with skills in the small pool are astounded when they observe me perform them in the ocean with ease. These people far exceed those who discourage me, for they remind me that my identity stops not with my sex, but with the choices I make as an individual. My own colleagues and friends at the Dive Center have never ceased to encourage me. Some continue to marvel at why I choose to pull up anchors and deal with the whims and temperaments of my diving customers when I could be in the comfort of my own home, enjoying the one privilege that I possess as a reasonably well-off Indian woman – a lackadaisical attitude, which is accepted among society, as many women here are deemed nugatory from the beginning anyway. That I chose differently, not only because I was brought up so, but because I chose to do so, has earned respect and sometimes admiration.  I became part of the diving community in Pondicherry, finally immune to the assumptions of the outside world. I was finally given the benefit of doubt and the power to be my best, irrespective of my sex.

Today, I am grateful, proud and a little in disbelief of how much diving has meant to me. To be a female instructor here, finally sees its advantage – I am the change, and I hope I am the inspiration for further change.

From Miss Scuba International to PADI Instructor

Miss Scuba International
Miss Scuba International Jamie

Happened recently in Phuket where our Miss Scuba International Jamie Piyada got certified with flying colors after passing the IE officially  as PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor.

“Since the first breath I took underwater, I knew I was hooked!”

Originally from Bangkok, Thailand Jamie has always been an ocean girl. “My connection with the ocean is indescribable, I do not know where it came from, all I know is the ocean is where I can find my serenity” says Jamie on an Interview with PADI Regional Manager Andy Auer

“I have always been into water sports, swimming, snorkeling, free diving and I knew SCUBA diving is my next step, it was just the matter of when. The first time I tried SCUBA diving was in November 2011 during my PADI Open Water Course. I remember the feeling when I sat down at the bottom of the pool and took my first breath…hearing nothing but my own breath, seeing the bubbles floating up to the sparkling light on the surface, I felt the sensation of ecstasy and I knew I’ve just been bitten by a SCUBA bug. After my first open water, I remember came up and told my instructor that this is what I want to do, I am going to be a dive instructor one day, he said nothing, nodded and smiled as if he has heard it all before, little did he know that Jamie meant it!.”

“Miss Scuba International representing Thailand”

Since 2012, Jamie is involved with an organization called Miss Scuba International, a beauty pageant for female scuba divers from all over the world to join and share their love and passion for the ocean and the sport. With the motto “Saving oceans through beauty” the main purpose of this pageant is to promote marine conservations and encourage more females to dive. She represented Thailand in the international round in Bali, Indonesia. At the end of a 10 day competition, her passions were recognized and I won the title of Miss Scuba International2012/13.

“During my time as Miss Scuba International2012/13 I had the opportunity to travel the world for a year and met so many interesting and inspiring people in marine conservation and diving industry, one of them was Darren Gaspari from Aussie Divers Phuket. I met Darren at Asia Dive Expo in Singapore, we had a conversation about diving in Thailand and Phuket and I guess somewhere along the line I must have slipped out my dream of becoming a dive instructor. Couple of months later Darren contacted me with a great and exciting news, that PADI and Aussie Divers Phuket are interested in sponsoring me for my PADI Rescue Diver and PADI Dive Master Course. Obviously it took me less than a second to consider the offer, my dream has been recognized and is now coming true, of course I said yes! Couple of meetings and couple of months later I said goodbye to the big city, moved down to Phuket and started my new adventure as a Dive Master Trainee”

I knew I was hooked

I have done my IDC with PADI CDC Centre  Dive Asia and PADI Course Director Artin Zaman in Phuket and and I am now a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, but in my opinion, Dive master course is definitely one of the most rewarding and life changing course as a dive professional. It was very exciting to go through a big transformation from just a girl who likes diving to a dive professional who now has responsibilities to be taken care of. It is the time when you have many of your “First” experiences, most of which you normally see and hear when you go diving, but let me tell you, it is completely a different story when you ARE the one doing it (e.g., demonstrate skills (which could be beneficial if you happen to want to go into acting or work as a mime!), brief the dive, set up dive site, lead the dive) and the list goes on. I learned pretty much everything I have seen and noticed, but I definitely learned A LOT of what I had not even come close to realize were important as a fun diver.


"always been a water girl"
“always been an ocean girl”

To me my dream has now been achieved but it is just a key to open doors filled with new adventures. A Big Thank you to PADI for recognized my dream and gave me the opportunity that has changed my life forever, for me to be living the dream. And thank you to PADI CDC Center Dive Asia and CD Artin Zaman for the great professional and fun IDC Experience i had. But the biggest thank you is for  Aussie Divers Phuket, Darren Gaspari and all Aussie Divers’ instructors, who aren’t only good looking, but very professional and fun to learn from and be around with. I can’t tell you enough how lucky I feel to get to learn from such a professional and passionate team. Even though each instructor has their own personality, teaching style and techniques, but one thing they all have in common is their dedication to the customer, they always make sure everyone stays safe and has their experience worthwhile. What I learned is at the end of the day, we are a part of our customer’s holiday and it is up to us to make it a forgettable or a memorable one, just like those dive masters and instructors who have made my holiday.


“For those of you who love diving, love the ocean and love people, I definitely recommend PADI Dive Master Course. Not only you will grow as a diver, you will grow as a person. Everyday as a dive professional is a new adventure waiting for you to explore. If I can do it, so can you! Happy Diving!