How the Tetra Society is Helping Calgarians with Disabilities
The Calgary chapter of the Tetra Society is a volunteer-run organization that creates assistive devices for people who are challenged with disabilities.
Tetra Society client Adelle Eshpeter, who has multiple sclerosis, typing at her computer.
Photograph by Jennifer Dorozio
Adelle Eshpeter, 74, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1976 and lost the use of her legs in 1981. Her hands stopped responding about 10 years later.
Despite losing the use of her hands, Eshpeter was determined not to just sit in her room all day. She acquired a wheelchair with a joystick that allowed her to control the chair by leaning forward to push on the stick. She used this set up for several years until her mobility further deteriorated to the point where she could no longer work the joystick. “When I couldn’t use the joystick any longer I decided to go to Tetra,” Eshpeter says.
The Calgary chapter of the Tetra Society is a volunteer-run organization that creates assistive devices for people who are challenged with disabilities. For Eshpeter, Tetra built a wooden holder on her wheelchair for a stick that she clasps with her mouth and uses to type at her computer and press buttons on her wheelchair, as well as two custom cup and water-bottle holders. “Without my stick, I wouldn’t be on the computer and without the computer half my life would be gone,” says Eshpeter.
Over the 23 years Tetra has been operating in the city, its volunteers, who operate with no budget or compensation, have built an impressive range of items. Using mainly recycled or donated materials such as steel, plastic and wood, they create cleverly simple solutions to ability barriers in both recreational and day-to-day activities. “We fill in the space between disability and ability,” says Tetra Calgary chair-person Allan Monk. “Everything we do is individual, custom-made design.”
The scale and design of the projects built by Tetra change depending on each individual case. Projects have ranged from rewiring a toy car for a paraplegic girl so it could accelerate via the horn instead of a gas pedal, to installing a monopod on a wheelchair for a quadriplegic man to use for birdwatching.
In 2017, Tetra’s Calgary chapter received more than 100 requests online and were able to fulfill approximately 70 of them (requests are refused only when there is a liability issue or if the technology already exists in the market).
The Tetra Society volunteer base is made up of trade workers as well as a “think tank” of general volunteers who work at coming up with solutions and design innovations for the various requests the organization receives. The society bases its operations out of a shop space in Inglewood provided by the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre Society and meets monthly to discuss and assign out the requests.
“You’ve got experts inspiring other experts,” Monk says. “We fill in the space between can’t and can.”
photograph by jennifer dorozio
Tetra Society volunteers Allan Monk and Ron Marshall in the shop space.