The world is full of barriers to mentally handicapped people whose goal is to blend in with society and live independent lives.
But the newspaper - the same tool others use to hunt for work, shop for clothing and food bargains and plan their leisure time - is a tool that helps break down those barriers."It opens a whole new world to our students," said Wanda Watson, who teaches mentally handicapped students at Hartvigsen School in the Granite School District. "It leaves a magic world."
Handicapped students ranging in age from 12 to 22 learn from Watson how to make the world around them less hostile. "The Deseret News has been an important tool in helping the mentally handicapped student to successfully apply functional survival skills needed to be independent in the community," said Watson.
Watson plans to share her techniques for using the newspaper to teach handicapped students during a Deseret News-sponsored teachers workshop Saturday.
Many of Watson's students either cannot read or read very little. "But they can look through the paper, see the pictures, read the paper and see what's happening around them." The students learn about the kind of information the paper has to offer - and how it will help them be more independent.
Even the non-reading students learn to read somewhat, even if not in a traditional sense, by repeatedly seeing the same words with pictures. "They see green beans in an ad and see the words and can recognize the cans."
Pictures, headlines and news stories also help the students understand current events. Marking a state map after reading a news story helps the students understand where other communities in the state are located. "They have learned where Logan is, they have learned where Provo is on the map," Watson said. "They pick up where an article is from and they mark it (on a map) so they have some idea of the states around them."
After in-class exercises with the paper, the students are sent out into the community to shop for clothes or food items they see advertised in the newspaper. "The beginning assignment would be to look for ads that would help them plan a single meal," Watson said. "They are taught to do comparison shopping - getting the most for the money - but quality is also important."
Classified ads help the students look for housing and employment. Other sections help them with a most difficult skill - making use of leisure time. "The newspaper provides them with the necessary information about TV, movies, sporting events, recreational parks and concerts."
The end result, Watson said, is the students enter the community with the same newspaper others use to make their lives more convenient - only for these students, the paper, in part, creates the avenue for independent living.
Watson is teaching a workshop Saturday that will help other teachers of handicapped children use the newspaper to teach basic survival skills.
Watson's workshop, titled "The Intellectually Handicapped Can Use the Newspaper Too" is one of 14 "Newspaper Magic" workshops offered Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m at East Midvale Elementary, 6990 S. Third East.
A $15 registration fee covers four 45-minute workshops, lunch, handouts and orders for 90 classroom newspapers. One-half to one hour of recertification/inservice credit is also offered, and one hour of Weber State College credit is available for an additional $20 fee.
A $5 registration that does not include the classroom newspaper sets is offered to principals and PTA representatives.
Teachers interested in the workshop can register by calling Deseret News for Youth, 237-2140, or by coming to the school at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Pre-registered teachers can pick up workshop packets at 8:45 a.m.