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January 29, 2003

Elementary students experience challenges of deaf and blind

From: St. George Daily Spectrum, UT - 29 Jan 2003

LAVERKIN -- Blindfolded and muffled by earphones, second-grader Storm Zack Grover bumped into chairs, groped for cookies and stumbled on the staircase.

The deaf-blind world is not fun, said his guide, Joel Lundell, 7, who just alternated with Grover during a disabilities education class at LaVerkin Elementary School.

"It's weird," the boy said. "It's kind of hard to learn stuff."

More than 500 LaVerkin Elementary students are having a taste of deaf-blind people's lives this week as they clash into walls, furniture and people in darkness and silence. The 45-minute classes on Tuesday and Wednesday will also teach youngsters the alphabets in sign language.

Coordinated by state education specialists from the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, the activities are introduced to raise students' awareness on people with disabilities, said Beth Ann Cahoon, special education teacher at LaVerkin Elementary. Earlier this month, the "Don't Laugh At Me" players -- all amateur actors with disabilities -- also performed at the school.

Three deaf students, nine blind students and 35 others with various disabilities have registered in the Washington County School District. At LaVerkin Elementary, Cahoon said, between 70 to 80 students have some kind of disability, such as autism and Cerebral Palsy.

"The kids here are wonderful," said Corry Hill, a family support specialist from Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. "They've been cooperative. They've been considerate of each other -- even boys and girls."

Jeanne Hirschi, a second-grade teacher at LaVerkin Elementary smiled Tuesday while 18 students carried out the deaf-blind program in silence. As the partners took turns to become the guide, she said, their attitude also changed.

"I think some of them will have some of the understanding and feelings for others (that are) disabled or different than them," she said.

Damien English, 7, said he had used the sign language with her mother at church. But like most students in the class, he said he felt strange in a world of darkness.

"I bumped," he said. "It felt weird, because I didn't know where I was."

Hill, a Salt Lake resident whose daughter Laurie, 13, is deaf and blind, said she hoped the students will supports people with disabilities.

"I think they'll be aware of disabilities, not to laugh at them, be more acceptive," she said.

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