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photo of Johnny Crescendo
And so to the tune of "I Can See for Miles and Miles," blind Johnny is laid to rest. "Now he is in heaven, he can see!"

Letter From America:
No Handicapped In Heaven?

By Johnny Crescendo

Have you ever been to a funeral of a disabled friend? I've been to lots recently. Here's a warning to us all.

There you are lying in your coffin in a church/ mosque/synagogue/temple. Maybe it's only the second time in your life you've been there. A person you have never met -- the vicar/ priest /rabbi/imam -- is eulogising about your faith, which you never had. He or she has got some notes from the one member of you family who gets religion, the one you had a row with 15 years previously and have never seen since.

They play music that in life made you reach for the vomit bucket -- something like "Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town" -- and hymns you've never heard of. You've been an activist who is totally anti-charity, who has been locked up campaigning against the patronising attitudes peddled by fading "F" list star. Yet mourners are being told now, "No flowers. All donations to the Jerry Lewis Telethon."

Or -- and this is even more common -- they're asking for donations to the hospital that you snuffed it in, even though you have always believed in socialised health care.

Though you have been in the disabled people's movement for over 20 years and almost all your friends are disabled, the crematorium is inaccessible and only a few can get in.

Then the old cliché's are rolled out:

"He's at peace now."

"He's not in pain anymore."

"Now he is in heaven he can see, walk, talk, hear etc." Or in the case of a person with Down syndrome: "He is now one of god's little children!"

If we are to believe these words of comfort, there are no handicapped in heaven!

And so to the tune of "I Can See for Miles and Miles," blind Johnny is laid to rest and the service is over. As a final insult your ashes are given to that relative you haven't seen for years.

It doesn't end there! That new wheelchair and van you finally got only a month ago (was it the shock that did for you?) is donated to a local nursing home. The adapted house you lived in is ripped apart to make it less disabled for the nondisabled new tenant. All your ADAPT t-shirts are given to the church jumble sale.

Maybe the grieving congregation is trying to get you so mad that you will not only turn in your grave but actually jump out of your coffin and say, "Will you fuckin' stop this right now!"

I therefore strongly advise disabled people to write down what they want to happen to them when they die, so you can go in peace. To give you an example here's my first attempt.

First rule: you must tie your wishes into any money you leave. If my wishes aren't met, all my money will go to DAN, the disabled people's Direct Action Network in Britain, and to ADAPT in the U.S.

Here we go :

Anybody attending the funeral must pay 100 pounds to DAN or 150 dollars to ADAPT. If you can't afford it, don't come and save you travelling expenses for your life, not my death. This is not optional.

Please use the cheapest funeral you can afford. Shop around. I don't want someone I have never met to profit from my death. A cardboard box is OK, but wrap me in plastic, as it lasts longer than wood.

I want to be buried with my mother but I would like both my legs cremated so that some of my ashes can be scattered at the Cambridge folk festival in the UK that I have been going to for the last 25 years. Also some ashes can be taken to the next ADAPT action and cast appropriately.

The service will be led either by my wife or another disability activist from DAN or ADAPT.

Service schedule will be:

  • an introduction to the Social Model of Disability
  • some of my songs and some Ian Stanton songs.
  • Some of my poems
  • Short speeches from Danners, Adapters and my brother and two daughters if they want to.

No one else, and nothing else -- or else.

I want my wheelchair buried with me (you never know!) and my callipers framed and hung on walls.

I can think of more but you get the gist.

One last point: there are handicapped people in heaven, just as there are black people, women, gay and lesbians -- who don't want to be straight, non disabled, white, men.

Yeah we might have had a tough time on earth, but that doesn't mean we want to change our identity.

Can you really imagine that when it is time for Nelson Mandella to pop his clogs that Desmond Tutu will eulogize that "Nelson is White Now"? I think not. If heaven is anything, it is diverse. And, if it does exist, it had better be accessible!


Posted Nov. 23, 2004

Johnny Crescendo (born Alan Holdsworth in Salford UK) is a disability civil rights singer and songwriter, founder of Britain's Direct Action Network, which "uses public demonstrations and non-violent civil disobedience to increase the awareness and liberation of disabled people." Visit him at www.johnnycrescendo.com

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