In front of a packed courtroom and a visibly emotional judge, Wade Brown was called to the bar. He is believed to be Canada’s only blind and paralyzed lawyer.
During the July 19 ceremony in Edmonton, Justice Douglas Mah of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench addressed Brown directly.
“I can barely contemplate even for one minute how you cope with your challenges, yet you have accepted them and overcome them,” Mah said.
“Quite frankly, sir, I think you serve as a role model and inspiration for all of us.”
Brown was born with a visual impairment. By the time he was 15, his vision was completely gone. Despite the support of family and friends, he sunk into depression.
“What value am I contributing?” Brown recalls thinking.
“I need to be read to, I can’t drive, I can’t read. I had no idea what jobs I’d be able to do some day.”
Brown, 36, says he always had good grades, and always wanted to go to university. In 2009, he obtained a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alberta. Then, inspired by a blind friend studying law in Montreal, he decided to pursue a career in law. The U of A’s Faculty of Law accepted Brown on his second try.
“I was like, ‘Mom, Dad, I got into law school! And then my dad said, ‘With the way you ran in here, I would have thought you got a new girlfriend or something,'” Brown laughed. “I said, ‘I did – and her name is Justice!’
“And that was probably by far the most clever thing I’ve ever said in my whole life.”
Brown says making friends in law school was easy, but the massive amount of reading was not. Using text-to-speech apps and programs, he listened to all of his books. Brown explains he was able to memorize the material with a phenomenon called synesthesia — linking words and terms to colours and abstract images in his mind.
“They’re like splotches of red and green lines and all these things, but when I bring them up – to me, the whole concept is revealed,” said Brown. “I can just remember it very, very well.”
Don Brown says his son has always impressed others.
“One of (Brown’s) professors even said it’s amazing how Wade was able to retain four and a half years of law and never ever see a piece of paper,” said Don Brown.
In 2016, Brown completed his law degree. When he didn’t get an articling position that year, he worked as a TV host for Accessible Media Inc. His legal issues segment was called Blind Justice.
Masuch Law offered Brown an articling position, starting in June 2017. But in April, he suffered a devastating medical issue. His aorta split, nearly killing him. It caused a permanent spinal cord injury.
He was paralyzed from the waist down.
“There was never a moment where I really wanted to give up… There was no doubt in my mind that I would make it through.”
In 2018, Brown wheeled into Masuch Law to complete his articling position. Colleague Adam Zibdawi feels Brown’s life experience is an asset in law.
“The more you’ve been through, the more you’ve seen, the more you’ve been up against… I think it certainly does make you a better lawyer,” said Zibdawi, an associate lawyer.
Brown is considering focusing on immigration law, to help refugees navigate the court system. He credits his family, friends, professors and colleagues with his success.
He also credits luck.
“I’m lucky. There’s no two ways about it… it’s overwhelming and it’s just thrilling.”
“His attitude always has been, ‘Bring it on, let’s go,'” smiled his father.