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Neil Squire Society offers new life

Lorraine Graves   Jan-31-2018

Munesh Raman demonstrates Neil Squire Society's affordable, hands-free, sip-and-puff controller LipSync for electronic devices and computers.

Photo by Chung Chow

If you are looking for a new home for your old computer or tablet, look no further than the Neil Squire Society.

It will be given a new life helping someone re-enter the community and the workforce after a major injury.



With the technological tools available today, many people can once again participate in the workforce even after becoming a paraplegic. At the very least, the society helps clients use the technology available in smart phones, tablets and computers to interact with the outside world, just like able-bodied people do.

According to Richmond’s Munesh Raman, computer comfort co-ordinator and technician for the Neil Squire Society, “We tend to get a lot of clients here who want to work on their cell phones, send and receive emails, take pictures and do Facebook.”

When a client has no use of their hands, due to paralysis or amputation, regaining independence becomes a matter of harnessing technology to solve mechanical problems.

That’s where your used computers, tablets, displays and keyboards come into play.

Raman says they are certified Microsoft refurbishers.

The society seeks Windows-based machines, not over five years old, that can be loaded with Windows 10 and Office. The equipment then goes to people who can use them in their daily lives, after learning how to use them.

Apart from refurbishing, the society does one-on-one training in their Burnaby offices for people with disabilities.

For people who don’t live within the region, the society also offers online training.

“That way we can empower more Canadians to use technology,” Raman says.

“We’re able to give back a lot to the community and see the difference in peoples lives. When they come through the computer comfort program, after not having any exposure to technology before (their injury), they are able to learn those skills and move forward and help in the community.”

Raman knows whereof he speaks.

Once a heavy duty mechanic, an injury forced him to change careers.

He went to Douglas College for a year’s training in IT (Information Technology) then went to the Neil Squire Society for his practicum.

“And I never left,” he says with a smile in his voice.

The non-profit society offers many options such as an employment program and an assisted technology assessment where they see what people need after their accident to get back to work.

Sometimes it’s different seating, a different keyboard, or a different chair arrangement. Sometimes it’s an earpiece or headpiece to answer the phone.

As well, they offer training in use of speech recognition software that works in place of typing. When appropriate, the society teaches people to use smaller, one-handed keyboards if they have use of one hand.

Two years ago, the society received a $2,000 grant from Google to develop a more affordable solution for people with no use of their hands, who wanted to use their mobile devices and computers.

In the old days, people had to use $1,500 sip and puff interfaces to work their computers and wheelchairs. It sometimes meant learning Morse code so their mouthpiece could control their computer. It always took patience. The society has put a more practical and affordable option into their clients’ lives.

“If you have no hand function, it’s hard to click on your phone,” says Raman, “By using 3D printing, and by making it open source, they are able to build LipSync (mouth controllers) themselves for less than $300. We do the printing on the actual device. LipSync works with phone and computer.”

So, whether you just want to keep your old Windows computer, laptop, monitor, keyboard or tablet out of the landfill, or you are looking for a place to learn new skills while coping with disabilities, the Neil Squire Society offers encouragement.

Raman says, when coping with a disability, “There is hope as long as you believe in yourself. It’s not going to be one year or two years. It’s going to take time to say, ‘Ok this is what happened and it’s time to move on,’ but the first two years are the hardest.”

Today, with new skills in IT and a job at the Neil Squire Society, Raman says he looks forward to work each day.

“I feel good. I feel like I’m going be making a difference in somebody’s life through employment or giving them technology that they can use for themselves to be empowered,” he says.

Check out for their refurbishing program, to see how you can make a difference in someone’s life.

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