|Image courtesy Braceworks - not the librarian|
Back in the seventies, I worked as a teacher in a special school in Brisbane.
The school was the location of a great deal of innovative practice, and the charity it serviced was equipped with a pretty comprehensive library that specialised in books and journals about cerebral palsy.
The resident librarian was a young woman with cerebral palsy, who, despite the fact that she was aphasic, ran a very efficient library.
If you failed to return a book or journal by the due date, you pretty soon heard the hum of her powered wheelchair at your classroom door, as she chased you down to deliver a reminder. She used notes tapped out on a communication machine to let you know the details, and she'd turn up with these notes pegged to her wheelchair. It paid to read them.
In the three years I taught there, I got to know her pretty well. Both of us attended evening lectures after work at the University of Queensland, St Lucia, and I used to give her a lift once or twice a week after school to the campus. Her parents would collect her at the end of the class to get her home.
We shared a couple of Education faculty subjects, and her machine ticked away as she took copious notes at lectures. Her notes were always more comprehensive and better organised than mine, which was useful as she shared them generously.
At one stage she had to have surgery on both her legs to remedy contracting large muscles, a common problem when you have athetosis. Both legs were set in plaster which became a problem when I had to get her into my Renault R12 to drive to uni. No matter how far back I set the passenger seat, she would not fit behind the dashboard with legs unable to bend, so I got creative and put her in the back seat sideways.
This was fine until we were driving through Fortitude Valley on the way out to St Lucia, and I had to brake hard to avoid skittling a careless pedestrian. I heard a muffled thump and looked around to see my passenger on the floor wedged between the rear seat squab and the backs of the front seats. I pulled over and attempted to lift her back on the seat, but when I got one end of her located successfully on the seat, the other end would fall again. My few unsuccessful attempts attracted the attention of a passing police constable, who thought initially that I was up to no good.
With him at one end (the traffic side) and me at the other, we managed to get her back on deck. What sticks in my memory is that she thought the whole thing was hilarious. She had an amazing capacity to find the funny side of most situations, a talent that no doubt stood her in good stead given the issues she had to deal with daily.
She had a very dim view of the notion of charity for people with disabilities, as I discovered one day when I drove her out to the airport to meet a plane. In those days, Brisbane domestic airport was adorned with one or two plaster statues of a child with cerebral palsy complete with a little money box into which you could stuff coins and notes if you felt inclined. Jess (not her real name) carried a walking stick which allowed her to occasionally stand upright with assistance for short periods.
She motioned me to push her wheelchair (a manual chair - the powered one stayed at work in the library) over to one of these plaster monstrosities. Thinking that she was going to generously donate to the cause, I did as I was asked.
When she was close enough, she grabbed the stick and began to bash the living daylights out of the statue, which caused great embarrassment to me, and confusion and consternation to the people behind the counter in the store where the statue was installed.
|Offending statue (Pic courtesy Pinterest)|
I wheeled her away in a great hurry. A little later she typed a note which read - "Sorry, but I hate those bloody things".
I lost track of her after I left the school to work elsewhere, but she has left me with lots of memories of a courageous, talented and assertive person.
She completed her course at the same time I did but could not be awarded a B Ed St, as she wasn't a registered teacher. I think she went on to earn a B A using her Education subjects.