Accessible Timeline

A History of The Neil Squire Society: 1980 to Present

1980 – 1989

1980

The Accident

21 year-old university student, Neil Squire, hits black ice and crashes his car, rendering him a C1 brain-stem tetraplegic.

Bill Cameron

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.

1981

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.

1982

Robotic Arm

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.

1983

Computer Comfort

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.

Designer Switches

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.

1984

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.

1985

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.

1986

Expo ’86

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.

1987

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.

Robotic Arm

Persons with disabilities begin testing a robotic arm, the Manipulative Obedient Machine (MOM) in a clinical environment.

1989

Computer Literacy

The Society receives a grant to develop an innovative computer literacy training program for adults with physical disabilities.

1990 – 1999

1993

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.

1994

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”.

1995

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.

High-Quad Sailboat

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.

1996

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.

1998

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

2002

Excellence Award

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

2003

Computer Refurbishing

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.

2004

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.

2006

Job Focus

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.

Distance Employ-Ability

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.

2008

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.

2009

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

2010

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.

2012

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.

United Nations

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.

2013

Working Together

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.

2014

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.

2015

Technology@Work 

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.

2016

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 Grant 

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.

2017

Access Makeathon

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.

RESNA Award

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 Buildathon

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.

Solutions Website

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.

Order of British Columbia

Neil Squire Society Executive Director, Gary Birch, Receives the Province’s Highest Form of Recognition. The Order of British Columbia recognizes exceptional individuals whose hard work, generosity of spirit and outstanding achievements have contributed immeasurably to the well-being of communities in British Columbia.

Technology@Work Extension

Hundreds of people with disabilities will be able to achieve greater independence and find meaningful employment thanks to the extension of the Province of British Columbia’s popular Technology@Work program.

New Partnership with File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council

Neil Squire Solutions begins providing assistive technology support to students and teachers at the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, with a focus on helping students with disabilities transition from school to post-secondary education/training or employment.

2018

Acadia University LipSync Buildathon

85 students take part in the Acadia University LipSync Buildathon.

CTV’s Your Morning

The LipSync is featured on CTV’s Your Morning with Host, Brian Mulroney, and Tech Expert, Avery Swartz.

Ministerial Visit

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, visits the Neil Squire Society Head Office.

TELUS Partnership

TELUS partners with the Neil Squire Society to host six TELUS Days of Giving LipSync Buildathons across Canada. Locations include Calgary, Kelowna, Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton and Toronto.

#BCTECH Summit

Gary Birch, Executive Director of the Neil Squire Society speaks at the #BCTECH Summit.

Government of Canada funds digital technologies

More than $3 million in funding for the Neil Squire Society was announced by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.

Makers Making Change Website

The new Makers Making Change website is launched. The website facilitates community level collaboration, and allows visitors to search for makers, project requests, and events in their area.

Working Together with Employers and Enhancing Employment

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, announces funding for the Society’s Working Together with Employers and Enhancing Employment program.

BC Certified Career Development Agency

Neil Squire Society becomes a Gold level BC Certified Career Development Agency.

Powered to Enable

The Society’s inaugural Powered to Enable campaign launches utilizing text to donate.

Powered to Enable Kick-off at EA

The Powered to Enable campaign is launched in Burnaby, BC with a kick-off event at Electronic Arts Canada.