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

While 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 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 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.”

Headshot of Brenda. She is seated at a desk, writing with a pen in a notebook

Finding Neil Squire and Makers Making Change

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.

Through her research, she learned about Neil Squire, and she connected with Shanelle Waiting, the regional coordinator for Alberta.

Brenda started working with the Working Together program for solutions to get back to her writing. She also began working with makers for her art, and she is just amazed at the low tech solutions they’ve been able to come up with.

Assistive Devices for Art

In November, Brenda appeared on a video with TELUS World of Science – Edmonton, talking about how she uses these devices for her art. Watch the video on Facebook.

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

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

“Instead of trying to grab it with my fingers, which I don’t have fine motor skills, I put this on and now I’m grabbing it with my whole hand,” she says.

When she took the device with her to an art class over the summer, she found that all the other attendees wanted one for themselves. “They didn’t even have hand tremors and they thought it was the next best thing to sliced bread.”

Other tools made for her help her draw and paint. A palm pen holder 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 allows her to grip a ball holding her pen with her hands, allowing her to write again.

A user using the 3D Printed Palm Pen Holder to draw on a piece of paper with ease

“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, which in a time of COVID, I can take painting and drawing classes just through YouTube, and I have the tools to do it,” 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.”

To read about the solutions Brenda received for her writing, visit the Neil Squire website.