Student tradies build interactive shop to help blind children learn life skills

Students from Chisholm TAFE in South East Melbourne recently completed an interactive shop for children at Insight Education Centre, a specialist primary school for the blind and vision impaired. The cubby house shop is designed for all children at the school, from prep through to grade 6.

Ian Malcolm, one of Chisholm’s Construction and Building Teachers, said the project involved support from a wide range of businesses and people donating their time and skills. “This project benefitted the students on either side, with the primary school kids gaining a tactile learning experience and the TAFE students learning invaluable teamwork and trade skills,”

The TAFE was able to deliver the project free of charge, thanks to generous donations from local businesses with tools, materials and employee time. “One company that employs a former student and Best Apprentice Victoria winner donated the shop windows and let the student assist with the on-site build. Many suppliers, including Bunnings, donated materials free of charge for the cubby house, so it was a real community project,” Mr Malcolm added.

Another of the students who worked on the project was awarded this year’s Best Apprentice Victoria by Master Builders Association, and was nominated in the Victorian Training Awards Community Choice Award 2016. Danielle Sheddon is a shopfitter who is going places, having been awarded the Caroline Chisholm Education Foundation scholarship sponsored by Hansen Yuncken as well as Chisholm Education’s CEO award. Danielle is studying her Certificate IV in Project Management in Building and Construction.

Designing and building the 3 metre by 1.8 metre shop involved numerous trades and a mix of pre-apprentice, Certificate III and VET students studying to be electricians, cabinet makers, carpenters, shop fitters, joiners and plumbers.

“The work was very detailed and everything needed to be meticulously finished to ensure there were no sharp edges or joins where a child could catch their fingers. Every part of the shop was made by hand, including the roof which was made by third year plumbing students,” Mr Malcolm said.

Specialist help was enlisted for the design of the shop, with features such as braille engraved shapes and boards set out in non-standard formation to give the children reference points for guidance.

Position Partners donated the use of Topcon and PLS laser levels to assist with the set out, manufacture and installation of the shop on site. “We used the lasers for fabrication set out as well as setting out the cupboards and levelling the shop on site,” Mr Malcolm said.

“Using both a rotating laser and also the cross line laser is invaluable for our students, as these tools are now industry standard,” he added. “The cross line laser is particularly easy for the students to understand as you can see the beam and they can watch how holding the staff at an angle distorts the angle, for example, so they understand how to get the most out of the technology.”

Halfway through the project, two coaches full of excited primary school children visited the TAFE to learn about the work that was going into their new interactive shop. “A couple of our students who are visually impaired spoke to the children about their experiences of transitioning into the workforce and the kids loved going up and down in our industrial size lift in the workshop,” Mr Malcolm said.

“Everyone who worked on the project, myself included, learnt a lot not just about the trade skills but also about the challenges people who are visually impaired face,” he added.

“It was a project that benefitted so many in the community and of course the children at Insight school in particular.”

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