In memory of Judith Snow 29.10.1949 – 31.05.2015
Previously, we have blogged about the history of Community Circles and how it all started with Judith Snow. In light of the sad news of her recent death, we thought we would look back at some of Judith’s life and work, and why we owe her thanks.
In Canada, in the mid 1970’s, a young and brilliant graduate York University lecturer and the founder of the Centre for Special Services for Handicapped Students was dying of apathetic bureaucracy. This woman, Judith Snow, had been placed in a geriatric ward of a residential care home, as she was quadriplegic, and because the state had judged that there was no other suitable place for her. Going to work every day meant that she would have to get up earlier and go to bed later than some of the other residents. The home decided that Judith was being awkward, and refused to help her eat at any other time than those scheduled. So she decided to carry on working and slowly starve to death.
Fortunately around this time, another woman, Marsha Forest, met Judith and the two became firm friends along with Marsha’s husband, Jack Pearpoint. These two friends would arguably save her life and also change it forever. By what they describe as an organic process, Jack and Marsha started to help Judith campaign for an independent life where she could be in control of appointing her own aid workers and allocating her own budget. Along with other friends, Jack and Marsha became Judith’s circle of support and though no one realised it at the time, they had stumbled on to something rather special. Judith called her circle the Joshua Committee as reference to the biblical Joshua who led the Israelites to the Promised Land and who helped them defend themselves from tyrants. One can imagine only too well that Judith had bureaucrats and archaic policies in mind when naming her Joshua Committee, as she pushed forward to gain ground in the field of health and social care for disabled people.
With her Joshua committee, Judith helped to inform policy on budgetary allowances for vulnerable people, raise awareness of the need for ‘inclusion’ and collaborated with others to write books and papers around many issues but notably ‘giftedness’. Additionally and very importantly, Judith became the first person in Canada to receive government mandated individualised funding for personal assistance, setting a precedent for other disabled people receiving state funded care.
Judith’s revolutionary models of working have resulted in thousands of disabled people gaining meaningful employment and their own homes, starting new relationships, and gaining support systems that lead to full community participation and personal respect.
Judith Snow and her circle taught us that even though some obstacles can seem insurmountable, together we can achieve so much. Community Circles was founded on this idea. We know that circles of support can provide personalised, effective and warm, engaging support. We now work with people to help them to live the lives that they want. Without Judith Snow, Community Circles may not be here and so we owe her a debt of gratitude – as do many people I imagine.
To find out more about Judith Snow and her circle of support read Jack Pearpoint’s (1998) From Behind the Piano.