Don was working as a welder in the construction industry when he broke his neck and sustained a spinal cord injury. He spent a week in the intensive care unit at Shaughnessy Hospital, after which he was moved to the spinal cord unit.
For a month, his roommate at the hospital was Neil Squire. “Neil had been there for a couple of years,” remembers Don. “I would see him learn to type using Morse code and so on.”
That was Don’s first brush with technology. In six months, he moved to the George Pearson Centre (new window), which ran the Terminal Operators Program. It was a computer training program for persons with physical disabilities.
“They asked me if I had ever worked with computers. I said no. Did I want to? No!” he laughs. As a welder, Don had no knowledge of computers. That was about to change.
Learning the ABCs
At the Terminal Operators Program, Don learned to use a word processor, database, and spreadsheet on a single disk drive computer. About two years later, he moved into Granville Island. Katrina Tilley, occupational therapist at the Neil Squire Society then and now, brought in a computer from the Computer Comfort program for his use.
Don would use a wooden stick with a piece of rubber at the end to turn pages in a book or to type on the keyboard. “On my computer, the only adaptable program was Shift Aid. With the Shift Aid, you could press the Shift key and it would lock the key, so the next character would be capitalized. That was it for adaptable technology at the time.”
Don received the Morse code switch from the Neil Squire Society. It was the sip-and-puff switch that was developed for Neil, which enabled someone to use Morse code and type on the keyboard. With the switch, Don could type 30 words a minute. With the help of the switch, he studied for and received the Certified General Accountant (new window) designation.
“Before the Morse code switch, it was very difficult for me to write an essay or read a book,” says Don. “I did the CGA program with the Morse code switch. It made a huge difference and allowed me to do a lot.”
The Society released the Jouse in 1994. It was a sip-and-puff device that became the inspiration for today’s LipSync. There was also a pilot project with a robotic arm, which would help people with disabilities perform basic everyday tasks.
After some time, Don got into an accident that took him off work. He ended up bringing the robotic arm to his place. “I had it programmed so it would take a file off the shelf, put it in front of me – it was kind of neat.”
In 2002, Don started volunteering in the Computer Comfort program after having hardly been out of the house in seven or eight years. At the Christmas party, National Operations Manager Greg Pyc spotted Don’s CGA mug. One thing led to another and Don started serving on the Neil Squire Society’s board in 2003.
Don was the treasurer up until 2016, and he has continued on with the fundraising and finance committees since stepping down from the board in September 2018.
“They did a lot for me,” he says about the Neil Squire Society. “For the same reason I volunteer, I donate as well. They’ve helped me a lot, and a lot of other people as well. They’re a great organization. I’m happy to give back where I can.”
Over the years, Don has seen the growth of the Society up close. “The organization’s grown so much. So many different programs all across the country. With advancing technology, we can help marginalized people. I think it’s going in a great direction, and it will be great to see where it goes from here.”