DSQ > Winter 2008, Volume 28, No.1

In her refreshingly forthright essay on her life as both a student and a teacher with a disability, Deshae E. Lott observes that, "When performing social roles and identities, disability — like gender, class, and race — becomes a point of conflict and negotiation. The academic setting, with its conflicting expectations that students be cooperative and passive as they examine differences, provides an interesting context for the dynamics of displaying disability" (135). Having spent the last twenty years as a student, and subsequently as an instructor, I can personally attest to the veracity of this statement. Disability, my disability, has indeed periodically been a site of conflict and negotiation, as I myself have sought to reconcile my disparate, often competing identities as an academic scholar, researcher, and instructor, a creative writer and playwright, and a woman who has severe disabilities. One of my first, and riskiest, attempts to bring these competing identities together in my work as a graduate student came when I decided that, for my Master's thesis, I was going to write a novel based on my experiences growing up in a so-called "special" school for students with disabilities.

In retrospect, I think that there were a number of factors which contributed to my decision to write this novel, which would eventually come to be entitled Sparrows on Wheels. First of all, the idea for the semi-autobiographical subject-matter of the book came, not so much out of a deep-seated desire to put fragments of my own childhood and youth on public display, but rather from a strong sense of my own history as a member of the disabled community, and an equally strong need to do my part to ensure that this history is preserved in some fashion. As a scholar of English literature, I knew something about the power of fiction to preserve cultural history, and I hoped that my novel could, in some small way, do for the posterity of the pre-integration "crip culture" of the 70s and 80s what Jane Austen's novels continue to do for the modern-day understanding of what life was like in Georgian England. More specifically, I wanted to give readers a sense of the actual day-to-day realities experienced by those of us crips who grew up in the pre-integration era, and who, consequently, had most, if not all, of our primary and secondary education in so-called "special" schools for students with disabilities. I soon realized that, in order to do this effectively, I would have to draw heavily on my own experiences and memories of that time, and that would mean running the risk that what I intended to be a fictionalized work of disability history would be read as straight out autobiography. The academic in me recoiled at the prospect of opening up my personal history to such mis-reading; I feared that, at worst, if I went through with this project, my Master's Thesis could end up being viewed as little more than an exercise in creative narcissism. Nevertheless, I had a strong conviction that this book project had the potential to be a significant contribution to the preservation of disability history and, by extension, disability culture. In my view, these potential educational and cultural benefits for the disability community far outweighed any potential risk of mis-readings and/or damage to my credibility as a "serious" academic or creative writer. Consequently, I decided to move forward with writing the novel as my Master's Thesis.

At that point in my career, I'd had sufficient academic training to reflexively know that, when one is embarking on any serious writing project, the first thing one does is to hit the library databases to see what has already been written on the subject matter that one intends to write about. Already concerned about the potential for this project to be perceived as academically suspect, I did not want the project to have the added challenge of being considered unoriginal. But, when I began my research, I soon found that, far from being in danger of reinventing the wheel, I would more likely have to invent the stone to make the wheel. It's not that I was the first person to write a novel about what it's like to grow up with a severe physical disability. It had, in fact, already been done very successfully by people like Christy Brown, Christopher Nolan, and, my own childhood favourite, Jean Little. But in all my research, I could not find a single work that focused on life inside a so-called "special" school, or examined the impact that the movement towards integration had on the students who had hitherto spent all their school years in a segregated setting. To my surprise, I found that the field was wide open.

A wide-open field can be both a blessing and a curse for a writer, academic or creative. There were a myriad of aspects of life in a so-called "special" school that I could potentially write about in this book, and only a slightly smaller myriad of day-to-day realities for kids growing up inside these schools that I really wanted to write about in this book. Distilled to its most basic form, I wanted this book to deal with three main themes. First of all, I wanted to explore the function of the "special" school as a close-knit, quasi-familial community for both students and staff. Because this is a community made up largely of people who, because of their physical difference, are considered "abnormal" by the outside world, many of the expectations, interactions, and relationships that characterize this community would likewise be considered "abnormal" by an outside world dominated by the Temporarily Able-Bodied (TAB). Consequently, conventional boundaries between groups of people in a school community (student/teacher, geek/jock, cool/uncool) become redefined, blurred, and sometimes, entirely erased, in the service of building and maintaining this alternate community. As the locus of this very consciously embodied alternative community, the fictionalized, "special" school itself, Inglewood School Hospital, functions as a character in the novel. Its fate is intended to be of as compelling interest to the reader as is the fate of any individual character in the book. (But then again, maybe this was just my way of trying to maneuver around that whole uncomfortable, oxymoronic notion that I, as an academic, was writing a work of fiction, based on my own subjective memories of my personal history with and in the institution of the so-called "special" school.)

As I was acutely aware of the essentially oxymoronic, and — to employ a highly problematic, yet commonplace, metaphor from the medical model — schizophrenic, nature of this project from the outset, I thought it important, early in the book, to establish the notion that this is a narrative that takes place in a setting that is, in itself, schizophrenic. Hence, these musings by the main character, Tallia Taves, on her way to her first day of Grade Seven:

The van pulled out into the street and they were indeed off. The driver, although quite friendly, didn't seem overly eager to strike up any lengthy conversation, which was actually just fine with Tallia since the noise of moving traffic always made it very difficult for her to make her impaired speech understood. Thus left to her own thoughts, Tallia's mind turned to her destination as it must have been printed on the run-sheet — Inglewood School Hospital ... Inglewood School Hospital — What a schizophrenic name! she thought, How can some place be a school and a hospital at the same time?! Yet, in some kind of weird way, that's what it was ... and maybe it was a little schizophrenic. There were teachers, nurses, doctors, therapists of all kinds, Occupational, Physio, Speech, and, of course, two hundred students with various disabilities, all in one building. The students weren't really sick like patients in a hospital (at least not most of the time), and yet, their disabilities often made it very difficult or even impossible for them to do things that able-bodied students do automatically every day. Many Inglewood students needed help with everything from writing, to eating, to going to the bathroom. Tallia knew that, in many ways, she was much luckier than many of her schoolmates — she had enough control in her hands so that she was able to type with one finger on an electric typewriter that had a metal plate over the keyboard with a hole in it for every key to help her hit one key at a time; her speech was often rather difficult for people to understand, but there were students at Inglewood who couldn't speak at all and used word-boards and symbol-boards to communicate; she also had a knack for school and studying that a lot of Inglewood students just didn't seem to have. (10)

This inherent tension between School and Hospital makes the setting of Inglewood an effective metonym for the contrast between the intellectual potential and physical limitations faced by many of its students. Indeed, the second theme that I wanted to deal with in the novel was the dichotomous, again quasi-schizophrenic, notion that the young characters with disabilities that I was writing about, even those kids living with potentially life-shortening conditions, like muscular dystrophy, basically get the same kinds of enjoyments and frustrations from simply living their lives as do most "severely normal" — as former Alberta Premier, Ralph Klein, would undoubtedly term them! — teenagers. And yet, the fact remains that these essentially ordinary teenagers are faced with some extraordinarily harsh realities, most notably the periodic death of schoolmates and friends, and, thanks to the growing trend towards integrating students with disabilities into regular schools, the impending dissolution of the school community which had played an integral role in forming their individual, personal identities. It is this fundamental and continuous clash between the "normal" and the "not normal" that drives the action of the novel, producing delightful-to-write sardonic scenes like the following:

But by the time the day that would bring Jo-Anne back to Inglewood finally came, Tallia had relegated all such speculations about her normal life in the real world to the very back of her mind, for the abnormalities of her own life had become far more pressing. On that day in late November, Tallia sat in English class hawkishly watching for any sign of neck-muscle-failure in Zachary, who had just returned from a four-week bout with a cold that had become a low-grade lung infection, and listening to Ellen read a poem by Emily Dickinson:

My life closed twice before its close —

    It yet remains to see

    If Immortality reveal

    A third event to me.

So huge, so hopeless to conceive

    As these that twice befell.

    Parting is all we know of heaven,

    And all we need of hell.

Ellen looked up from her book and noticed an intense look of concentration on Zachary's face. "Zachary, what do you think is the main idea that Emily Dickinson is trying to get across in this poem?"

Zachary looked down for an instant, seemingly embarrassed to have been discovered in his attentiveness. He spoke with pointed decisiveness, though his voice was notably weak. "Life sucks."

"Can you elaborate on that?"

"Self-explanatory, isn't it?"

Recognizing this as the start of another potentially volatile confrontation between Zachary and Ellen, Greg quickly jumped in. "She's talking about endings that happen in a person's life — the biggies, like death and stuff — and how it feels to suddenly be separated from people you really care about." He paused thoughtfully for a moment. "Actually, it probably took a lot of guts for her to write it."

"How so, Greg?" asked Ellen.

"Well, most people are really afraid of expressing their personal feelings about that kind of stuff because it makes them too vulnerable."

A devious glint suddenly animated Zachary's languid countenance. "Or she could be trying to fake out her readers by making them think she's being all deep and sincere when she's really just using words to manipulate how they think and feel."

Ellen seemed intrigued. "What makes you think that, Zachary?"

"Most people just can't take even sorting out their feelings about things like death for themselves — it's just too heavy," explained Zachary. "So putting it down on paper is just another way of distancing yourself from it. — It's just like trying to run away from the whole thing."

The sudden clunking and clattering of someone in a wheelchair at the classroom door provided a timely break in which Zachary could catch his breath while Ellen scurried to see who it was. "Well, Jo-Anne! How great to see you again. Come on in."

Three pairs of astonished eyes followed Jo-Anne into the room. None were wider than Tallia's; she couldn't believe that Jo-Anne had deigned to step out of her normal life long enough to return to Inglewood for any reason.

Zachary, it seems, couldn't believe it either. "Well, well, the Prodigal Crip returneth! Taking a break from life in the fast lane in the real world to visit us poor schmoes still stuck here in Nowhere-Land, are you?"

Jo-Anne drove up and parked in front of what used to be her desk. "Actually, I had to come to have a new backrest put in my chair down in Orthotics. So I just thought I'd drop by and say hi."

An awkward moment of silence followed. Since neither Zachary nor Tallia seemed disposed to making pleasant conversation, Greg took it upon himself to fill in the gap. "So how's life at Calder?" he asked in an amiable tone.

"Just great," Jo-Anne replied with an eager nod. "I've been meeting a lot of new people, making a lot of new friends."

Tallia rolled her eyes and began flipping through her English anthology.

"That's wonderful, Jo-Anne," smiled Ellen. "And how's your aide working out?"

Jo-Anne hesitated. "Well — actually, she quit two weeks ago — She found out she was pregnant and decided that she didn't want to do heavy stuff, like transferring me from my chair to the toilet, any more."

Ellen wrinkled her forehead in concern. "Oh no, Jo-Anne! Have they found a replacement?"

"No, not yet. — "

"So how are you managing?" Ellen asked quickly.

"Don't suppose that all your new friends are pitching in and helping you out, eh?" Zachary murmured wryly.

Jo-Anne wriggled uncomfortably in her chair. "No — I mean, some of 'em may want to help out, but it's against school policy because of potential law suits and stuff. —"

Her three former classmates exchanged looks of scepticism. "How convenient for them," Zachary muttered under his breath.

"They said that they expect to find a replacement any day now," Jo-Anne assured them.

But Ellen's mind wasn't at all eased by Jo-Anne's stoic surety. "Yes, but how are you managing now?"

Again, Jo-Anne hesitated. "Well, for right now, I'm only going to school half-days — that way, I don't have to worry about someone feeding me lunch and taking me to the bathroom."

Almost involuntarily, Tallia lowered her anthology onto her desk. She could well imagine the kind of physical and emotional upheaval that Jo-Anne must be going through. Her first, and strongest, impulse was to express her genuine sympathy and concern. She swallowed hard and racked her brain for an inoffensive way to begin.

But upon seeing Tallia raise her head as if she wanted to say something, Jo-Anne quickly turned and addressed Ellen. "And my guidance counsellor says I can make up whatever I fall behind in once I get my new aide."

Feeling rebuffed, Tallia again picked up her book. Although she was really concerned about Jo-Anne, she did not have the emotional energy to try again to break through her stubbornly-maintained defenses, especially when the scars from her last attempt to do so had not yet healed.

Ellen sighed. "I see."

"So, what's been happening around here?" Jo-Anne asked, briskly changing the subject.

"Well, Greg and Tallia are Co-Editors of the Insider this year. I think they're doing a very fine job — They've even got Zachary doing a regular comic strip."

"It's called The Misadventures of Super-Crip," Zachary announced triumphantly. "I'd give you an autographed copy of the latest issue for the Calder library, but it probably wouldn't go over real big with that new normal crowd you run with now — they just wouldn't appreciate the subtle humour of making buildings accessible by blowing them up."

Greg laughed. "Or the one you're working on for the Christmas issue, the one where Super-Crip applies for a job as Santa Claus and ends up suing the Santa's Union because the sleigh they provided wasn't accessible transportation. True comic genius, I say! But it just wouldn't be appreciated by those Philistines in the normal set."

Zachary raised his head proudly. "No, but that's okay, I'm a true artiste! I'd never sell out my art just to get commercial success. Besides, I'm just doing this comic strip gig to kill time until I can break into the big-time."

"What's that? TV cartoons?" Greg asked.

"Nah, that's old hat. I want to be an innovator, break into a whole new field — comic-strip obituaries!"

Jo-Anne shuddered. "Zachary! That's like totally warped and morbid!"

"Maybe, but it'd be a cool alternative to the measly little three paragraphs of ultra tiny print buried in the Announcements page," argued Zachary. "I know I'd rather be immortalized in a few tasteful frames, perhaps commemorating my creation of Super-Crip!"

Jo-Anne looked away in discomfort, but Greg found himself quite fascinated by the morbid absurdity of the subject. "But you're the one who's gonna create this total monopoly on comic-strip obituaries, so how can you be 'immortalized in a few tasteful frames' if you're not around to do the immortalizing?"

Zachary frowned thoughtfully. "Good point ... Well then, I guess I'll just have to start with my own — yeah! It'll be a great way of getting some practice!"

Visibly annoyed, Jo-Anne fidgeted with her joystick, causing her chair to inch back and forth. "For crying out loud, Zachary, when will you quit being so morbid!"

"Oh, I don't know, Jo-Anne," drawled Zachary. "Maybe when you quit trying to be so normal." Instantaneously, his neck muscles gave out again, causing his head to flop backwards. Looking up from her book, Tallia watched anxiously as Ellen immediately scurried over to him, lifted up his head, and held it while he had another prolonged coughing spasm which left him gasping for breath. "Wow! — Maybe — I'd better — hurry up — and — get drawing! — " (171-176)

(Incidently, Zachary was the easiest character of all for me to write, because all I had to do was let out my "inner cynic," and give her free reign!)

This scene, which I lovingly refer to as "the comic-strip obituary scene," illustrates, with potentially painful clarity, the emotional volatility inherent in this dichotomy between the School and the Hospital, and between the "normal" and the "not normal." For the characters in the book, as for me personally, a crucial part of this ongoing, quasi-schizophrenic negotiation between the "normal" and the "not normal" is the ever-present frustration and necessity of trying to negotiate a place of acceptance for perceived "abnormalities" within the culture and institutions of the "normal" or "real' world. This is the third theme that I wanted to deal with in this novel.

Academic literature in the fields of both Disability Studies and Special Education appears to confirm the validity of this theme of ongoing identity negotiation that people with disabilities are continually compelled to engage in. Lawrence (1991) delineates some of the ways in which education in a so-called "special" school can in fact facilitate the development of a positive self-concept in adolescents with physical disabilities:

The presence of physically handicapped pupils in the normal classroom present many problems. Special facilities, teaching techniques and equipment may all be required. Additionally, the perception of disabilities by the teacher and other pupils may cause discord and difficulty. So, administrators in the area of special education have assumed that physically handicapped pupils should be placed in a special class where they would have a chance for success among other handicapped peers, since the inference is that 'normal' class placement confronts such children with standards so out of reach that they have no substantial basis for self-evaluation. Therefore, the self-esteem of these children may be seriously impaired.

Some research (Burns, 1982) has suggested that the special school not only enabled such pupils to feel academically adequate in terms of the norms of those schools but also is able to meet the emotional and social needs of the student. Taking students out of regular classrooms and placing them in special class also tended to increase their self-concept of ability.

Special class placement in some cases enhanced self-esteem. It would seem that special class placement reduces the anxieties and frustration of children with learning problems and consequently fosters positive feelings of self-worth. It would appear that some research (Burns, 1982, for example) suggests that a positive self-esteem can easily be achieved by physically handicapped pupils when placed in special classes. (143)

I must pause here to explicitly acknowledge the fact that to combine a Disability Studies perspective with a Special Education perspective may, in some circles, be considered an act of out-and-out blasphemy. However, I would contend that this admittedly unorthodox coupling of perspectives is a demonstrative illustration of precisely the kind of tensions between incongruous identities that lay at the heart of both the novel and this article. It therefore seems to me that to dismiss evidential references to scholarly literature written from a Special Education perspective as philosophically inappropriate in an article based in Disability Studies would be to summarily ignore a significant historical influence — both positive and negative — in the earliest formations of what we have now come to refer to as "the Disability Community." Moreover, such an exclusion of the Special Education perspective on disability would be tantamount to dismissing as irrelevant the lived experience of hundreds and thousands of, now middle-aged, people with disabilities who grew up in the pre-integration era. It would, in fact, be privileging contemporary "normalizing" approaches to disability over historical "specialized" (i.e. non-normative) approaches to disability.

Initially, Tallia, the protagonist of the novel, will have nothing to do with compromising her "not-normal" identity for the sake of trying to gain acceptance in the "normal" world:

If there was one word in the English language guaranteed to set Tallia off, it was the word normal. Although she kept her voice determinedly low, its sharp, quick pace clearly betrayed her growing anger. "Not normal?! Well, I've got news for you Jo-Anne, this is not a normal school! We're here because we're crips, and most teachers out there in normal schools would get totally freaked out by us because they don't think we're normal. (21)

In fact, Tallia's staunch resistance to the whole movement towards integrating students with disabilities into regular schools can, to a large extent, be seen as her refusal to forfeit her identity as a disabled person, a crip, to the dictates and "norms" of Temporarily-Able-Bodied society. But, as Tallia gets older, and as the integration movement gains momentum, she and her classmates are forced to negotiate for a place in the "normal" world. Since integration is an institutional phenomenon as well as an individual choice, its progress necessitates group debate, as well as individual introspection. Perhaps ironically, it is the schizophrenic sphere of the School Hospital that can provide adequate space for both:

"It's 1:03. What's taking her so long?" Jo-Anne murmured as she paced the width of the classroom in her wheelchair.

"Gee, I don't know. Mr. Harris shouldn't really have anything to go on about at the staff meeting since Tallia hasn't had any major publications this month," teased Greg.

Tallia was passing the time by making a game out of trying to pick up the pencil that kept rolling elusively across her desk. "Har, har, very funny."

"Well, I just hope that Harris finally gets the guts to actually start moving on the integration program, instead of being the Wimpy Wonder he's been all year," said Jo-Anne.

"Mr. Harris is no wimp," Tallia snapped defensively. "He just cares enough about the school, and us, not to go rushing into anything half-cocked."

"That's the biggest load of bull I've ever heard!" scoffed Jo-Anne.

"He cares about the school, maybe. But us? Forget it! He's just covering his butt because he doesn't want it to suddenly come out that a bunch of ordinary public school teachers can teach us just as well as these guys with their fancy-schmancy Special Ed degrees. It's been over a year since they first started talking about integration. When are they finally gonna stop talking and actually start doing something about it?"

"You've gotta admit, there is a lot of politics wrapped up in this whole integration spiel." Zachary fidgeted with the joystick on his chair. "The School Board might just decide that it looks better to have a token crip in every school than to keep us all segregated."

"That may work with some of the walkers," said Tallia. "But what about the forty-odd severely disabled junior-senior highs? Who's going to buy that they're all suddenly going to be better off in regular schools with little or no supports in place than they are here, in a fully-adapted school with small classes and individualized programs?"

Jo-Anne let out a sarcastic laugh. "Individualized programs — yeah, right! The programs are so individualized that Cathy Whitman was in Grade Nine before our brilliant teaching staff finally figured out she couldn't read and that teacher's aides had actually been doing her work for her, assuming that they were reading her mind because she can't talk."

"But, to be fair, that kind of stuff can happen in regular schools too," said Greg. "My cousin was in Grade Ten before they figured out that he had a reading problem."

"But that doesn't change the fact that this place is a joke as a school," Jo-Anne threw up her hands. "Name me one real school that has a graduation rate of less than five percent. All it usually means to 'graduate' from this place is that you're too old to go to school so you get to sit home and watch TV all day."

Abandoning her pursuit of the elusive pencil, Tallia took hold of her joystick and turned slightly towards Jo-Anne. "And you think that situation's going to improve if they start dumping everybody into regular classes that are already overcrowded and have no kinds of support systems or support staff in place?"

Jo-Anne shook her head disdainfully. "Support staff? What, you mean like our own beloved Hag Hagarth? Call me crazy, but I don't think her sudden absence from my life would prove too detrimental to my development!"

"Look, I'm not saying that this place doesn't have its problems, it obviously does. But I still don't think everybody rushing out to become normal by getting integrated into regular schools is magically going to solve everything for everybody," explained Tallia. "Whether we're at Inglewood or not, we're still going to be crips and we're still going to have to deal with crip problems, problems that normal people will never really have a clue about. It's not like integration is suddenly going to make those problems all go away and make us all normal."

"Well, it's a cinch that hiding out in this place won't make anything better," said Jo-Anne. "There's no way I'm going to stay hidden away in a place where I can never be anything but a crip. If you want to keep hiding out here with Hag Hagarth breathing down your neck, that's your problem." (133-135)

Between the all-or-nothing stances toward integration taken by Tallia and Jo-Anne, Greg and Zachary offer a more balanced and pragmatic, if still skeptical, approach to the issue. Ironically, it is the boys who are precluded as candidates for integration because their health is compromised by their Muscular Dystrophy. By novel's end, Jo-Anne's rush towards integration has proven disastrous, while Tallia is finally preparing to take the mammoth leap of being integrated, not into a regular high school, but into university. As for Inglewood itself, after decades of healthy survival as a schizophrenic institution, it now stands on the verge of total dis-integration. Tallia and Greg, who is now beginning to succumb to the deterioration caused by Muscular Dystrophy, sit as witnesses to the demise of their school community:

"Do you remember when we first started junior high? Our greatest ambition in life was to get on the school paper and show all those seniors how to write. And we knew we could do it too, because we were part of the Fearless Five! Well, look at us now! — We are the Insider! When we — leave — the paper will cease to exist. But what about the Fearless Five, eh? What happened to them? Well, Alex and Zachary, they had MD, so they had a spot reserved on the obits page all along. But hey, writing tributes for dead friends is just part of the job when you work on our school paper. That's just the reality of Inglewood, right? Then, there was Jo-Anne. See, Jo-Anne just couldn't deal with that kind of reality. So she ran away into the 'real world' to try to become 'normal.' Unfortunately, the 'real world' seems to have just chewed her up and spat her out. Then, there's me. I'm good in school, I can write! — So I'm supposed to go out into the big, bad, real world and start beating staircases into ramps, so that more of those disabled people who come after me can make it out there ... I have the responsibility of being a trail-blazer! … But you — see, even though you have the exact same skills and talents that I do, you don't have to help carry that responsibility! You can even just totally abandon me to do it all on my own!"

Tallia's words seemed to unlock the pent-up feelings of bitterness and resentment that Greg had been trying so hard to suppress. "Don't you think I envy you your shot at making it out there?" he burst out in anger. "Don't you think I envy you your life?"

Angry tears welled up in Tallia's eyes. "Of course, I do! — Do you have any idea how unbearably guilty it made me feel going to the university this morning when I knew that you were on your way to clinic?"

As quickly as it had come, Greg's anger subsided. "Look, the envy, the guilt — they don't really count."

"Why not?"

"Because they don't change the fact that you have a great chance to make it out there. And losing your chance won't get me one."

"But you deserve that chance as much as I do."

Greg's expression became very intense. "So you're just gonna have to make your chance count for both of us — for all of us!"

Tallia shook her head. "Oh, no you don't! — You're not going to do this to me! This isn't one of those sappy scenes on Little House on the Prairie when the dying friend makes the hero promise to live out his dream for him! ... I can't take on that kind of pressure! ... I can't live your life."

"I don't want you to live my life. I just want to make sure you don't let whatever happens to me keep you from living your life."

Tallia bit her lip. "But what if I get out there and end up falling on my face?"

"That doesn't seem too likely at this point!"

"But what if it happens?"

"Then you'll pick yourself up and go on."

"I don't think I can do it alone."

"You won't be alone. You'll be surrounded by a whole new circle of friends before you know it. You'll still have Tony. And, who knows, you might even have Jo-Anne."

"I was thinking about it coming back here on the bus," Tallia said slowly. "I'm going to call her tonight. I won't mention any of this university stuff, I'll just tell her I'm here if she needs me."

"And I bet she'll come around. See, you won't be alone."

"But — I don't want to — lose you either."

"I'll still be around — in spirit, if not in body."

"My guardian angel, eh," Tallia said quietly.

Greg smiled. "Not quite. But maybe I'll get to help direct 'em."

With one last wave of defiance, Tallia turned away. "No — this is NUTS! We're sitting here talking like this is IT already."

"It is — at least it's time to get ready."

Tallia began to sob. "No — not yet — it's too soon!"

Greg rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it! ... Look, Tallia, we've both known that this was coming since Adam died in grade six. I looked at him in that coffin, and I realized that I was gonna be the body in the coffin in a few years. I'd been so mad at Adam for dying without giving me a chance to say goodbye — I promised myself then that I wouldn't do that to my friends ... That's the one thing I can't stand about this place — everyone can see what's coming, but no one's got the guts to say it out loud." He looked directly at her. "Tallia, I'm going to die soon."

Tallia was trying hard to keep her chin from quivering.

Greg spoke softly. "But that's okay, 'cause this friendship thing we've got goin' — nothing can screw it up — not gravity, or death."

Tallia paused thoughtfully. "When Adam died, Mrs. Williams told us that friends who really care about each other become part of each other's souls forever."

"Mrs. Williams always was pretty much on the ball."

In spite of herself, Tallia laughed. Greg sure knew how to kill a moment! "Get outta here! You couldn't stand her! — You used to call her Wicked Witch Williams!"

"Details, details!"

She reached over and put her hand on his arm. "You're really okay with this?"

Greg shrugged. "I guess so. I mean, it does have its up-side."

"Like what?"

"Well, for one thing, I'll finally have this gravity thing beat!"

A trace of a smile crept across Tallia's face. "Yeah, I guess you will at that."

Tony appeared in the classroom doorway. "Ready to head out, Kiddo?"

Greg looked at Tallia. "I think she's all set."

Tallia took a deep breath. "Yeah. I guess I finally am." (247-250)

With those words, Tallia Taves launches beyond the margins of the text to begin her quest to establish a life as a crip in the TAB-dominated "real world." Were there ever to be a sequel to this novel, Tallia would likely find, as has her author, that, to live a well-adjusted life as a Crip-Academic and Disabled-Writer one must learn to live with, and indeed embrace, the oxymorons and split personalities that first emerged in that healthily schizophrenic institution — the school hospital.


  • Janz, Heidi L. Sparrows on Wheels. Edmonton, Alberta: DocCrip Press, 2004.
  • Lawrence, B. "Self-concept Formation and Physical Handicap: some educational implications for integration." Disability, Handicap & Society 6.2 (1991): 139-146.
  • Lott, Deshae E. "Going to Class With (Going to Clash With?) the Disabled Person: Educators, Students, and Their Spoken and Unspoken Negotiations." Embodied Rhetorics: Disability in Language and Culture. Eds. James C. Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. Southern Illinois UP; October 2001. 273-308.
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Copyright (c) 2008 Heidi L. Janz

Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated. 

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)