A history of the Neil Squire Society: 1984 to 2014
1980 – 1989
21 year-old university student, Neil Squire, hits black ice and crashes his car, rendering him a C1 brain-stem tetraplegic.
Neil Squire begins working with his second cousin, Bill Cameron, a prolific inventor and engineer. Bill is determined to use technology to help Neil speak.
Sip-and-Puff and Morse Code
Neil learns to use a sip-and-puff machine that Bill created from an old teleprinter to aid Neil in communication. Neil learned to use Morse code, which was converted into words on a screen through Bill’s device. This original device was soon replaced by an Apple IIe computer.
Bill Cameron and a team of researchers begin work on a robotic arm that will enable quadriplegics to shave, comb their hair, or put on lipstick.
Bill continues to work with Neil and other people with disabilities, teaching them to use computers to increase their independence. He is soon aided by a group of dedicated volunteers. From these efforts, the Neil Squire Society’s first program, Computer Comfort, is born.
Engineers begin inventing one-of-a-kind ‘designer’ switches for persons with disabilities to access computers, such as a finger switch, a head switch, an eye switch, a cheek switch or voice commands. Each switch is as unique as each disability.
Brain-Computer Interface Project
Gary Birch, who had been teaching Neil to communicate on the computer by using the sip-and-puff technique, begins work on the Brain-Computer Interface Project. The objective of the project is to create a multi-position, brain-controlled switch that is activated by brain signals measured directly from the scalp of an individual.
April 18th, 1984 – Neil Squire Passes Away
Neil Squire passes away from kidney failure.
June 19th, 1984 – The Neil Squire Rehabilitation Society is Formed
Upon Neil’s death, donations are collected in lieu of flowers. These funds are used to create the Neil Squire Rehabilitation Society.
Research and Development
Research and Development projects include dual switches, environmental control units, computer hardware and software, androbots to do household chores and grooming tasks.
Computer Comfort Expansion
The Computer Comfort program expands across Canada thanks to funding from the National Research Council. 67 University student volunteers worked for 4 month terms in 45 institutions and trained over 1,000 participants in 10 provinces.
The Neil Squire Foundation
The Society’s name is changed to the Neil Squire Foundation.
August 15th, 1985 – Second City Alumni Take Part in Comedy Benefit Show
John Candy, Martin Short, and Andrea Martin raise money for the Foundation at a benefit comedy event.
We showcase our work at Expo ’86. Quintessential exposure for the Society’s Research and Development and the Computer Comfort program.
“I Have A Voice”
Benefit single “I have a voice” is recorded at Mushroom Studios, Vancouver.
Expansion Across Canada
We expand across Canada, setting up offices in BC, SK, ON, and NB, thanks to funding from the federal government ($3.4 million over 3 years) for the Removing the Barriers program (now called Employ-Ability), under the Innovations program of the Canadian Jobs Strategy.
Consultation and Assessment
Consultation and Assessment services were introduced (now called Solutions). We provide a range of services to meet individual ergonomic and assistive technology needs in a variety of settings including the office environment, home, and school.
Persons with disabilities begin testing a robotic arm, the Manipulative Obedient Machine (MOM) in a clinical environment.
The Society receives a grant to develop an innovative computer literacy training program for adults with physical disabilities.
1990 – 1999
March 13th, 1993 – Bill Cameron Passes Away
Neil Squire Society Founder, Bill Cameron, passes away at the age of 68.
The Gateway Project
The Gateway Project is completed. The project focused on the development of a wheelchair-mounted device that provided advanced home control and telephone communications features in a wireless package.
March 20th, 1993 – Gary Birch
Gary Birch becomes the Executive Director.
Terry Fox Hall of Fame
Bill Cameron is inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame. The Terry Fox Hall of Fame recognizes “outstanding Canadians who have made extraordinary contributions to enriching the quality of life for people with physical disabilities”.
Leader in Innovative Technology
R&D establishes itself as a leader in innovative technology, inventing, among other items, the Jouse and the Lipsync.
The Lipsync is a next generation USB mouse emulation device based on Neil Squire Society’s earlier development of a product called The Jouse.
The High-Quad sailboat is launched with our sip-and-puff technology which allows a high level quadriplegic to control the sailboat using only their mouth.
Governor General’s Flight for Freedom Award
Our Speech Assisted Reading And Writing (SARAW) program wins the Governor General’s Flight for Freedom Award. Sponsored by Canada Post Corporation, the award honours a project showing long term achievment, innovation, leadership and organizational excellence in literacy.
Terry Fox Hall of Fame
Gary Birch is inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame. The Terry Fox Hall of Fame recognizes “outstanding Canadians who have made extraordinary contributions to enriching the quality of life for people with physical disabilities.”
2000 – 2009
The Atlantic regional office is awarded an Excellence Award from the New Brunswick Labour Force Development Board for our programming for people with disabilities.
Community IT Hero Award
We receive the Community IT Hero Award in recognition of our leadership and dedication to improving our community through the innovative use of information technology
The Computer Refurbishing program launches. As a Microsoft® Registered Refurbisher, we accept donations of used computers which we refurbish and provide to people with disabilities for free.
The Neil Squire Society
The Foundation’s name is changed to the Neil Squire Society.
20 Years, 20,000 Dreams
The Society celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The Job Focus Program is launched. Job Focus is an employment service for persons with disabilities and workplace injuries, designed to help them reach their vocational goals.
We begin delivering our Employ-Ability curriculum online through our partner sites and the internet. Participants are able to sign into our online classroom anywhere there is an internet connection, and at anytime.
Order of Canada
Gary Birch is appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor for lifetime achievement, for his work with the Neil Squire Society.
CRTC Hearings on Accessibility
The Research and Development group argues for accessibility of cel phone technology. As a result of this work we were successful in convincing the the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to adopting at least part of our recommendations in their ruling based on those hearings which came out in July 2009.
2010 – Present
Distance Computer Comfort
The Distance Computer Comfort Program launches, allowing us to offer Computer Comfort anywhere across Canada. While working with a private tutor online, participants can develop their own computer skills in the comfort of their own home, or at one of our partner offices.
Access & Inclusion Award
The Computer Comfort Program was chosen as the recipient of the Access & Inclusion Award 2012 in the Organization category.
Celebration of People Awards
The Ottawa office is awarded the Education category at the Celebration of People Awards for leadership in education for people with disabilities.
The Neil Squire Society, represented by Gary Birch, attends the fifth session of the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Gary highlights the important role of accessible technologies in enabling the social and economic inclusion for people with disabilities to the different technology corporations as well as representatives from various international Governments.
Working Together, a wage subsidy program, is launched. The program provides wage subsidy to employers who hire participants. While removing barriers and introducing potential employees to job opportunities, employers will experience the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities.
30 Years Strong!
The Society celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Accessible City Award of Excellence
National Operations Manager,Greg Pyc, receives the City of Vancouver’s Accessible City Award of Excellence. The award recognizes outstanding leadership to enhance accessibility, inclusion, and elimination of barriers to full participation for persons with disabilities.
AT Help Desk
The AT Help Desk is launched for residents of New Brunswick. Through the AT Help Desk, New Brunswickians looking for support when using Assistive Tehcnology, can connect with an AT Specialist for free.
The Technology@Work Program is launched. With funding from the Government of British Columbia, the Program provides Assistive Technology equipment, products and services to enable British Columbians with disabilities to secure and obtain work.
Is Your Innovation Disabled
Gary Birch speaks at the TEDxBCIT in Vancouver. His perspective-bending talk provides an insight into the great innovations that have been spurred on by people with disabilities, and yet which benefits all, bringing tremendous value to workplace that hires people with disabilities.
Google.org awards Neil Squire Society USD $800,000 grant through their Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. With this support, Neil Squire Society releases LipSync, a mouth controlled input device enabling people with disabilities to operate a mobile device.
9th Session of the Conference of State Parties at the United Nations
Gary Birch co-chairs Roundtable 3: Enhancing accessibility information and technology and inclusive development, at the 9th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy
The Honorable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development invites Gary Birch to participate in the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity in Cancun, New Mexico.
Inventors, Creators, Hackers, and Change Makers came together over 48 hours at the Access Makeathon in Vancouver. They built open source assistive technologies that directly addressed the needs of people with disabilities.
Makers Making Change
The Makers Making Change website is Launched: www.makersmakingchange.com. Makers Making Change connects makers to people with disabilities who need assistive technologies.
TELUS Buildathon, Vancouver
The TELUS LipSync Buildathon is held in Vancouver. At the event, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities announced that the Neil Squire Society would receive approximately $750,000 for its Makers Making Change initiative.
LIFT Philanthropy Partners
The Neil Squire Society has partnered with LIFT Philanthropy Partners to work towards making the world of technology more accessible for people with disabilities.
The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) awarded the Most Disruptive Technology award to the Neil Squire Society for their LipSync, a device that was developed by the Society’s Makers Making Change initiative.
Bell Buildathon, Toronto
Bell Mobility partnered with the Neil Squire Society’s Makers Making Change initiative for the Bell LipSync Buildathon held at Toronto’s STEAMLabs.
TELUS Buildathon, Calgary
The TELUS LipSync Buildathon is held in Calgary. At the event the Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Sport and People with Disabilities, attended our event to speak about the role of makers of assistive technology in creating opportunities for people with disabilities.
Google staff at Google HQ in Mountain View, California, build LipSyncs during Accessibility Week.
AT Help Desk Website
The AT Help Desk Website is Launched. With the launch of the AT HelpDesk website, the AT HelpDesk services are expanded from taking calls, emails and text to a website with plans to provide more opportunities to learn, share, and collaborate around AT.
The Neil Squire Solutions website is Launched. Solutions is a team of healthcare professionals that specialize in using assistive technology and ergonomics to find the most effective individualized solutions to remove workplace barriers.