To mark Tomorrow’s 42nd Anniversary of the Charter of Rights, New Memoir Reveals Little-Known Saga of how Disability Advocates got Equality for Millions of People with Disabilities Added to the Charter





To mark Tomorrow’s 42nd Anniversary of the Charter of Rights, New Memoir Reveals the Little-Known Saga of how Disability Advocates got Equality for Millions of People with Disabilities Added to the Charter


April 17, 2024 Toronto: Forty-two years ago tomorrow, Canada’s Charter of Rights went into effect. How did Canada end up being the first of any western democracy to enshrine in its Constitution a guarantee of equality rights for people with disabilities? A brand-new memoir tells the saga of how this uphill battle was won despite enormous obstacles. It is written by blind lawyer and law professor David Lepofsky, one of the grassroots disability activists who waged the campaign over four decades ago to win this ground-breaking constitutional right.


This is the first retrospective to describe in detail the origin of the disability amendment to the Charter. It is a behind-the-scenes account of disability rights advocacy. Its story resonates to this day for millions of people with disabilities in Canada.


Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau proposed a new Charter of Rights for Canada’s Constitution in October 1980 to guarantee equality rights. Yet originally, it entirely left out equality for people with disabilities. It was a blitz of grassroots activism that led Parliament to amend the proposed Charter before it was enacted to include equality for people with disabilities.


In “Swimming Up Niagara Falls — The Battle to Get Disability Rights Added to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” David Lepofsky explains how it happened, step by step. This memoir includes a foreword by internationally renowned retired Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella.


The disability amendment to Canada’s Constitution laid the bedrock legal foundation for court cases and legislative reforms to advance the right of students with disabilities to an equal education, the right of patients with disabilities to barrier-free access to health care, and the right of all people with disabilities to the full anti-discrimination protection of federal and provincial Human Rights Codes.


“Equality for people with disabilities was the only constitutional right added to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms during the widely publicized eighteen-month epic battle over the patriation of Canada’s Constitution, which lasted from October 1980 to April 1982,” writes Lepofsky. “It was won without any of the grassroots-organizing experience or the major technological tools that are today an indispensable part of the community organizer’s and disability advocate’s toolkit.”


Since Parliament adopted the Charter of Rights in 1982, David Lepofsky, along with many others in the disability community, has volunteered time lobbying, advocating, and campaigning to get the constitutional right to equality for people with disabilities effectively implemented. He and others won enactment of new legislation like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, fought in court and before regulatory tribunals, lobbied politicians and public servants, and taught generations of law students about this important constitutional right.


Few people know that equality for people with disabilities in Canada’s beloved Charter of Rights was the product of grassroots action. This memoir will be informative for those interested in Canadian political or legal history, social justice and human rights advocacy, community organizing, or Canadian constitutional law. It will also interest anyone who enjoys discovering past events that form a part of Canada’s tapestry. It is hoped that its contents can find their way into the curriculum of students at all levels of our education system who would benefit from learning about these uniquely Canadian events.


The memoir offers lessons learned from this campaign and insights on how it would be waged very differently today with the benefit of the internet, social media, and so much more that did not exist in 1980. It provides an unusual blend of politics, history, law, activism tactics, critical self-scrutiny and personal autobiography, with a bit of Star Trek nostalgia mixed in. As part of the memoir, David Lepofsky describes how he went blind as a teen, the events that led him to decide to become a disability rights advocate and activist, and the unpredictable chain of events that led to the victory for people with disabilities that so many individuals and organizations helped win.


David Lepofsky is the Visiting Research Professor of Disability Rights at the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. He is Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and of the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children. (All volunteer positions)


This memoir is published in Volume 39 of the Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, the law journal of the Faculty of Law of the University of Windsor. It is “open source” and available for free for anyone to download and read.


Download the memoir at


News publications, educational institutions and all others may reprint passages from this memoir so long as they acknowledge the author and cite it as originally published in the Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, in terms that comply with the WYAJ requirements posted at



Contact: David Lepofsky,

Twitter: @davidlepofsky


For more background, check out the captioned video of David Lepofsky’s December 12, 1980 testimony at the Parliament of Canada in support of adding disability equality to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on behalf of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.