A Message From Executive Director Dr. Gary Birch: The Importance of Client Centred Solutions

Gary Birch, in a wheelchair, looks over Neil, in a bed with a sip and puff device mounted.

It’s hard for me to believe that we are 40 years in and counting. In some ways, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was working with Neil as he was learning Morse code with his state-of-the-art Apple IIe computer — it had 64 KB of memory, and believe it or not, that was considered massive for a personal computer. (Compare that with the memory on your smart phone right now just to put it into perspective).

As we celebrate 40 years of impact, it had me reflecting on my early days working with Neil even before the organization was formally founded, and one particularly important lesson I learned early on.

The sip and puff switch that he was using was never designed for the number of times you’d need to use it for a Morse code application, and it would begin to fail relatively soon after putting it into use.

Our founder Bill Cameron asked me, a budding electrical engineer, to develop an alternative switch. He encouraged me to look at the possibilities of designing a new switch around fibre-optics.

By the end of the summer term while I was working with Neil, I developed what I thought was a very clever switch that used pieces of fibre-optic. The switch could easily fit into the mouth, and then with a very light touch of the tongue could trigger one switch for a dot and another for a dash.

I took the new switch proudly into Neil, and explained to him that he could trigger it by using his tongue, and at first, he was keen to give it a try. He got it working, but found it very cumbersome and tiring to use his tongue after a few attempts at triggering a dot or a dash. Bottom line, even though it worked great, he didn’t like it, and went back to using the original switch.

This was my first practical lesson in the importance of including the client in the solution, both early on and throughout the entire development process. A solution without being client centred almost always results in very poor outcomes.

Taking from that lesson — along with a strong emphasis from our founder Bill Cameron — everything we do at Neil Squire has to be client centred, from the assistive technology solutions we develop and implement with our Makers Making Change and Solutions programs to the focus of our Employment and Digital Literacy programs.

Forty years later, I’m so proud of the work of our staff, supporters, and volunteers to ensure this is always our approach in everything that we do. It is a cornerstone of why I believe we have continued to be so successful.

Gary Birch, O.C.O.B.C.Ph.D.P.Eng.,
Executive Director, Neil Squire Society

Tags: assistive technology, History, Neil Squire Society, Solutions, Staff

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