Judith Snow

Judith Snow
Oct. 29, 1949 – May 31, 2015

photo of Judith Snow

Our dear friend and faculty member Judith Snow passed away on the evening of May 31, 2015. Below is a letter from John McKnight to our faculty about Judith.

Dear Circle of Friends;

Jack Pearpoint of Inclusion Press made a moving slide show of Judith’s life. It was shown at her memorial service. In some pictures you will see Mike Green and a guy with an absurdly outsized beard – that’s me.

The cumulative effect of these pictures will lift your spirit and might change your life. Judith changed the direction of her life every four or five years in order to live her life at the fullest.

The doctors told Judith’s parents she would never live to 30. In her joyous defiance, she lived to 65. And in memory of professional fallibility, her last year she said was her 35th. Each year a wonderfully productive bonus. Minutes before she had a heart attack, she was working on her computer. Blessedly, no long suffering death.

Judith was a lover. She loved hats, as you will see. She loved adventure and these pictures show her canoeing and going up a climbing wall. She loved the color pink. She loved elephants because the Hindu elephant God Ganesha is the breaker of barriers. Her rooms and the memorial service were filled with pictures of elephants. Indeed, she wanted to have an elephant lead a procession after the memorial service but her executor couldn’t locate one.

She especially loved people born without the ability to speak. She sought to learn how to listen for their dreams and wrote a guide that we published some years ago.

She loved art and in her latter years changed her life once again and became an artist. Among the attached slides you will see pictures of the show of her paintings at the Toronto Museum of Art.

Judith loved change and politics. She was a member of the Communist Party of Canada.

Most of all, I think, she loved the possibilities in every single person. She was an advocate for dreaming. Dreams are the portal to freedom. She knew this because her magnificent life began with dreams and became real through courageous, tough, persistence.

I spent many hours,weeks and months with Judith. Only recently, I recognized that in our lives together we never discussed her physical condition. She never brought it up. Nor did I. We were friends and a friend is a person who loves you in spite of your negatives. We were too busy enjoying each other to fasten on limits. She wanted it that way. I think she was so illuminated by her dreams that she was fastened on learning how to fly. So she defied all risks.

Her wisdom and insight were incredible gifts to me, and to all of us. Among the slides you’ll see a picture with her favorite advice – “You think too small”.
So in her memory we can all think big about ABCD and its future. ABCD, after all, is the 50 of us, our gifts and our circle of friendship. Nothing is as powerful as what we have.

Judith is saying to us, “Remember to dream big, fly high – together.”


Judith Snow had been called the “Julia Roberts of the disability community.” You could not be in her presence without experiencing a shift and seeing a new possibility for yourself and others. Powerful, energetic and joyful, her passion was matched only by her commitment. Her entire life was dedicated to making a difference for people all over the world.

Judith Snow was a trailblazer, having led training and education programs for over 30 years throughout the US, the UK, Europe, the Caribbean and Canada. Her models resulted in thousands of people with disabilities getting jobs, homes, new relationships and support systems that lead to full community participation and personal respect.

Working with her mother, Rita, in the 70’s, Judith was instrumental in the development of a model called Support Service Living Units. This service format has been widely adopted throughout North America. A little later she created Canada’s first post-secondary learning support program, enabling students with physical and intellectual disabilities to attend College and University and to excel academically and socially.

In 1980 she became Canada’s first person to receive individualized funding from the Government in Ontario. Shortly thereafter, she chaired the first ever attendant care action coalition, which caused the government to provide funding for 600+ people in the province of Ontario. Also during those years, she developed a model that puts government funding directly into the hands of the people who need the support. Since then some form of liberating individualized assistance has been adopted by most provinces for people with all sorts of disabilities.

In the 90’s Judith Snow focused primarily on training and education of families, individuals and human service providers. Judith wrote the book What’s Really Worth Doing and How To Do It co-authored From Behind the Piano with Jack Pearpoint, and had written many articles in various publications worldwide.

Judith Snow was a consultant and trainer with the National Home of your Own Alliance for eight years. This project operated in 23 states in the US, resulting in hundreds of people living in their own homes with their own support systems.

Judith Snow was a faculty member with the Asset-Based Community Development Institute. Along with John McKnight, Mike Green, Henry Moore and other members of this faculty this Institute fostered a fusion of community development and inclusion that allows citizens to benefit from diversity in grass root community settings internationally.

Over the last 10 years Judith Snow concentrated on the contributions of people who don’t speak. “If a ‘quiet’ kid’s really included, violence and drug use decline at their school. We need to start telling everywhere the real life stories of students with challenging disabilities who are positively, even dramatically, changing schools in North America and Europe,” she said.

In 2003 Judith developed Laser Eagles Art Guild adapting a technique invented by Tim Lefens that allows people with limited mobility to paint, and making it possible for these artists to fully integrate into local arts communities. She become a visual artist herself, with three showings of her own works.

Judith Snow showed people that there really is no disability: “People are always contributing something. The work is to see the value and potential in what they are contributing and build that through relationships into community and economic opportunities.”

Judith will be truly missed.

Judith Snow: Advocate
for inclusion was ‘a visionary’

Judith Snow Canoing
Judith Snow canoeing on the Madawaska River in Ontario while pretending to paddle.

From the Globe and Mail

Although Judith Snow suffered from a condition that eventually denied her all movement below the neck, she had a full life as a writer, actor, artist, Communist, educator, nature enthusiast and an internationally renowned champion for inclusion.

Her friend Jack Pearpoint, publisher of Inclusion Press and former president of Frontier College, believes her life itself was an inspiration. “She was officially dead for 35 years according to the medical profession. She had been told she couldn’t live past 30. She blew them all out of the water.”

Ms. Snow, who suffered from spinal muscular atrophy, disliked the word “disability” so much that she once told a journalist she preferred the word “freak” to “disabled.” Her objection to the D-word arose from the belief that we all have limitations – even those who are not “disabled” – nevertheless, we all have gifts and contributions to make.

Ms. Snow died of a heart attack at the age of 65 in her Toronto apartment on May 31. Just an hour earlier, she had been working at her computer. The night before, she had been out attending a friend’s 65th birthday party, then stayed up until 4 a.m. playing cards with her attendant.

Judith Snow was born in Oshawa, Ont., on Oct. 29, 1949, to Rita (née Lock) and Edwin Randolph Snow. She was the third of four children. Her parents convinced a local school to accept Judith, who as a child was not able to walk, in a system that once insisted it had no place for someone like her.

That was the first act of defiance for a woman whose advocacy would eventually mean so much to others. Ms. Snow’s father told her that once upon a time someone like her would have been strangled in the rural British village where he came from because she would have been unable to do farm work. Ms. Snow says she asked him why he hadn’t strangled her. He replied that perhaps the point of her life was to find out.

Though Ms. Snow had lost all remaining, limited use of her limbs following spinal surgery in 1972, she completed a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Toronto’s York University in 1976. After graduation, her mobility deteriorated further and by 1978 she was operating her wheelchair with her thumb. She was relegated to a nursing home, but it could not meet the needs of the ambitious and peripatetic Ms. Snow, who was still running a centre for handicapped students that she had started at university.

In 1979, with her health and spirits failing, Ms. Snow revolted. She refused to return to the nursing home, taking refuge first with friends in university housing and then at the home of Jack Pearpoint and Marsha Forest, a married couple who would become close friends. The couple created the first “Joshua Committee,” a circle of friends dedicated to enabling Ms. Snow to live independently. The name came from Ms. Snow’s assertion that they would blow down walls. Through concerted political pressure they managed to obtain an Ontario Order-in-Council, providing a modicum of support for Ms. Snow to live on her own and continue her work.

Mr. Pearpoint said that Ms. Snow’s determination, “infinitely broadened the range of choices available to someone like her.” He said that opportunities for individual care – a focus of her campaign – are “dramatically improved and [have] many miles to go.”

The actions of the Joshua Committee were a launching pad for Ms. Snow’s career as an activist and educator. Through her association with the Toronto Summer Institute on Inclusion, Community and Diversity, based originally at McGill University, in Montreal, and now in Toronto, as well as the Asset-Based Community Development Institute of Northwestern University, in Chicago, Ms. Snow became a leader in a movement bent on creating opportunity. The work took her across Canada, Europe, the United States and the Caribbean.

In the summer of 1982, she met Mother Teresa at a Toronto event to promote world peace and nuclear disarmament.

On several visits to Denver, Ms. Snow met with 10-year-old Annie Green, a girl afflicted with an organic brain syndrome. The girl’s father, Mike Green, a community organizer, said that Ms. Snow helped him to see his daughter as a person, “who could have her own dream for her life” rather than someone suffering from limitations. Ms. Snow became Annie’s godmother.

Mr. Pearpoint summed up Ms. Snow’s method: “She believed everyone had a gift. What we have to do is figure out what the gift is and how to assist that person in making a contribution. Her gifts and capacities existed in a whole different frame because they came out of the mouth of someone who wasn’t supposed to be there.”

Doris McWhorter, director of the Education Research and Evaluation Strategy Branch at Ontario’s Ministry of Education, who met Ms. Snow in the 1980s, claimed, “When Judith told the story of her life, it was transformational. She had the gift of speech and the ability to communicate with a wide range of people. She was a visionary.”

Ms. Snow was interested in all spiritual expressions of love and inclusive community. Mr. Green said she was enthralled to learn more about the culture of the Navajo, whose communities they visited. Ms. Snow was also a member of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and stood as a party candidate in both federal and provincial elections. She was never elected.

Ms. Snow was a curious, demanding, generous, humorous and adventurous person. Ms. McWhorter said, “she sometimes took risks that scared the rest of us.” Ms. Snow canoed on the Madawaska and St. Lawrence Rivers in Ontario while strapped to a thwart, explored the Colorado Rockies while being transported in a hammock strung between poles – a contraption Ms. Snow dubbed her “Cleopatra chair” – and was once tugged up to the very top of a climbing wall aboard a cruise ship to espy the horizon. Ms. Snow’s friend Sandy Gray, now retired after a career in community work in Canada and abroad, said “Judith played all the odds and won.” The slide show presented at Ms. Snow’s funeral portrayed her wearing a variety of wigs and costumes and toking on a joint.

Ms. Snow assisted playwright Michael Rubenfeld in staging the 2009 play The Book of Judith, which was presented as a mock revival show with a chorus in a tent outside the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto. Mr. Rubenfeld conceived the work while struggling to respond to a question posed by one of Ms. Snow’s attendants: “Can you find Judith a lover?” In his discomfort with the question, Mr. Rubenfeld determined he could not find a lover, but he would write a play that addressed prejudice about the so-called disabled. Ms. Snow appeared in the acclaimed production.

Ms. Snow’s influence also extended to technology when she participated in experiments for the creation of devices to assist people like her. As an adult she lost the ability to move her right thumb to control her chair. She participated in the development of a “sip and puff” system that allows quadriplegics to command a chair by emitting Morse code through a mouth tube. She also helped form the Laser Eagles Art Guild, which assists those without the physical capacity to hold a brush to paint by laser. In 2011, the Royal Ontario Museum held an exhibition of Ms. Snow’s paintings.

“Judith wanted to explore her artistic life,” Ms. McWhorter said, “She wanted to evolve.” Mr. Pearpoint added, “She always knew she was an artist, but she had been told her whole life she couldn’t be. She discovered, ‘of course I can.’”

Mr. Green said, “Judith didn’t work on disability, she worked on community.”

Ms. Snow leaves her siblings: Ian Randolph Snow, Rosemary Anne Malo and James (Jim) Edwin Snow.


Who’s Drawing the Lines?

From Behind the Piano (Now in One Book)

Great Questions:  Writings of Judith Snow  (free ebook)

Judith Snow POSTER


Judith Snow – ON DREAMING

Judith Snow:  A Poem

Judith Snow – On BEING an ARTIST

Judith Snow – A STORY

Judith Snow – the Laser Eagles Story – by Bill McQueen