Sandra Gail Lambert’s immersive essay told from a first-person point-of-view, about the author’s experience as an activist for disability rights, is a very straightforward one, even with its non-linear structure. The piece begins in media res, which is always a sort of hook in itself. The opening image—protestors led by an American flag with stars and stripes in the shape of a wheelchair—is an image that effectively explains the gathering as well as the author’s point in being there. Without a direct description of the author, we conclude, through her quick observations and hints of her own disability, that she is one of the protestors. We are drawn into a fast-paced scene in which the activists swarming a convention hotel are being arrested by police the instant they head through the doors. Meanwhile, clear diction creates a strong sense of realism and works to intensify action. What eventually happens to her in the midst of all this? We don’t know yet and so we are compelled to read more.
In a jump to previous events, there is vivid description of the other activists and how the author can relate to them through their disabilities. Relying primarily on visuals, as through most of the piece, she describes the different ways in which they ‘move’, amplifying the underlying truth of what brings these people together.
Palms leaned on a pad, mouths moved a stick, gloved hands gripped wheels, fingers clutched a bar, elbows shoved against a plate, or maybe someone was pushing the wheelchair, but they were all moving.
Even if some of them are so debilitated that they cannot physically move, the metaphor is used to include them as they are there taking a stand, gathered to protect their rights as a single movement. We are given examples of the unfairness the activists are gathered against, e.g. the CEOs’ monopoly on Medicare funding, violent crimes against the disabled (which the toothless man was nearly victim of). These few examples work to give the piece extra emotional weight. Referring back to the title, the author implies that disability and what they face because of it has made them all poster children for this cause. The way she uses the controlling metaphor to briefly encapsulate her and Eleanor’s childhood equally indicates just how long their struggle has existed.
The line “A bull-horned shout told us to line up” interrupts this second section, suddenly breaking immersion in one scene to move on to the next. In one short sentence, we are dropped back into a continuation of the previous scene to jump to its end result.
The piece is structurally segmented into three separate events, each of which are opposite in tone. It begins with the moment of fast-paced action and intensity, switches to the calm and generally hopeful events not long before it (“…they were all moving”), and ends with the impact of defeat felt in the final scene. The voice becomes removed and clinical upon reaching the third section, the author’s familiarity with the environment stripped away. The characters themselves are merely named in the scene as they appear, their wheelchairs signifying each person’s part in the united whole which she describes in the first two sections. The visuals, especially with the mention of color, seem to take major importance.
Our cell is bright. Fluorescent tubes hang from the ceiling. They and the cameras stay on all night. The bunks are a freshly painted yellow. The vinyl mattresses are green, and the toilet in the corner is a silvered chrome. The blankets are shades of gray. So are the sheets. We are all in blue, the guards in beige, and the nurse in white. Jennifer’s wheelchair is Day-Glo pink.
Everything described in the jail cell is given a certain color, which can be thought of as the author painting a “poster.” This way, it is another connection back to the controlling metaphor in the title. The reader can infer the author and her jailed companion are still poster children and always have been, only they now represent a deeper issue: that they are silenced for attempting to speak out. The author places more focus on dialogue to highlight their state of helplessness:
“On my side,” she says. ”I need pillows to brace my legs.”
”No pillows in jail,” one of them states and then folds a blanket and holds it up.
”That will work.” Caroline’s voice reaches out of the sheets. ”Put that one between my legs and get another for behind my knees.”
Speculation as a device is used to gradually construct the piece’s objective, which is to explain her cause and the trouble it faces. Most effectively, speculation is used to close the piece with purpose:
Their faces, one brown and one white, are wide open with emotion. Not pity or disgust or resentment—I can recognize those. This is less familiar.
In these couple sentences, the narrator ends the essay with her driving point: the issue troubling the disabled isn’t just a lack of resolution, but a lack of empathy from others. No further explanation is given, and so an apparent significance lies in those last words of reflective speculation.
As for the author’s credibility, there is little reason to doubt that the author is who she leads us to believe. Her style is highly visceral, communicating only the crucial bits of background information while favoring action and sensory description. By letting her prime experience speak for itself, we can assume the author’s presence in the story is genuine.
This piece overall was interesting in its use of an immersive writing style to bring greater attention to the issues facing disability rights, which I’d never heard addressed in a creative nonfiction piece before. Although I would have liked more dialogue and a longer retelling of events, I admired the author’s way of disturbing the scene with sharp transitions, giving great character depth with little description, excluding unnecessary details, and ending the piece with a subtle connection back to the controlling metaphor to bring the point home. The creative essay itself was a solid little eye-opener.