Brenda Can Continue Her Writing and Art with Assistive Technology

December 23, 2020

Brenda is a prolific author based in Alberta, writing “cozy mysteries with a little touch of magic in them”.

Headshot of Brenda. She is seated at a desk, writing with a pen in a notebookWhile her passion is writing, she also loves painting and making art — it’s a great stress reliever. But the fine motor skills it takes to do all these activities present a challenge for Brenda.

“I’ve had benign familial tremors (new window) my whole life, but it was not even recognized as a health issue until my early twenties,” she explains, noting how she can’t write her name legibly anymore.

“Then my joints began to deteriorate with osteoarthritis (new window) in my forties, but again, I didn’t think of it as something that could be ‘fixed’, so I ignored it and carried on. The more my health deteriorated, the more I adapted.”

Finding Neil Squire

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the arthritis in Brenda’s neck pinched off nerves, leaving her without use of her dominant arm and hand.

“It was the ‘last straw’ in my struggle to push through my obstacles and continue my writing career,” she says. “A longtime friend forced me to accept that I was disabled – something I had never considered despite all the evidence to the contrary.”

Through her research, she learned about Neil Squire and decided to reach out.

“I was devastated when I thought my writing career was over,” she explains. “I couldn’t imagine what I would do with the rest of my life and I quickly sank into depression. The very first phone conversation I had with Neil Squire was positive and uplifting to my spirits. I hung up the phone that day and cried with relief… I was going to write again, and not in a couple of years, but within a couple of months.”

WritingBrenda's setup. She is standing at her desk, using her keyboard, with the penguin mouse next to it

Brenda could now only type for 10 minutes at a time on her keyboard. Using a regular mouse only caused further pain and inflammation. Through Neil Squire, she received a number of assistive technologies to help with this.

Dragon Naturally Speaking (new window) is the most critical support for me in terms of getting back to work as an author. Neil Squire gave me an XL keyboard and Penguin Mouse, which extend my typing time for day-to-day activities. [But] with Dragon, I can dictate the novel without aggravating my condition in any way.

“I have been able to finish the book that I started when my arm gave out. I’ll be dedicating that book to Shanelle and Chelsea at Neil Squire, because what they do in my eyes is Mortal Magic, as that book is entitled.”


Brenda also worked with the Makers Making Change program, and she is just amazed at the low tech solutions they’ve been able to come up with to help her with her art.

In November, Brenda appeared on a video with TELUS World of Science – Edmonton, talking about these solutions. Watch it on Facebook. (new window)

Screenshot of Facebook video where Brenda spoke with TELUS World of Science - Edmonton

One of her favourites is the assistive paint tube opener (new window), a 3D printed grip that helps her open a paint tube without having it squirt out at her due to her hand tremors.

Other tools made for her help her draw and paint. A palm pen holder (new window) was modified to fit paintbrushes, as well as the bigger pencils she needs for drawing, which allows her to use both hands to steady the device and draw straight lines. A pen ball (new window) allows her to grip a ball holding her pen with her hands, allowing her to write again.

“Now, all of a sudden at 62, I can draw a straight line. That sounds ridiculous, but that is so exciting for somebody like me who hasn’t been able to do it,” Brenda exclaims.

“[These] really low tech amazing things they’ve given me that have allowed me to go back to doing my art without squirting paint all over myself,” she continues. “Technology suddenly made this possible for people like me.”

She’s currently working with makers on a number of other designs for assistive technology.

“I think that we’re only limited by our imagination,” she says of low tech assistive technology to help people with disabilities. “It’s going to be a challenge that’s fun. I’m going to turn it into a game, see what other things I can come up with that need fixing.”

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