Local engineer is making a difference in his local community
When Leonard Lye sat down to read an article in the mid-1990s about how Tetra Society founder Sam Sullivan contacted the local association of professional engineers in Vancouver, BC for technical help after a skiing accident left him almost completely paralyzed, he had an idea.
“After I read the article, I thought, we are the ideal place to have a society like this, based in engineering. I talked to several other faculty members who supported the idea. Then, I applied to the Tetra Society’s head office in Vancouver and was approved to become the founder and coordinator of the St. John’s Chapter, and the rest is history,” explained Dr. Lye.
Once the local chapter was established, Dr. Lye recruited volunteers.
“I wrote an article for The Telegram about the Tetra Society and asked for volunteers. Approximately 25 people showed up for that initial meeting back in 1996, including occupational therapists and engineers. Over the years, there has been tremendous support, including my colleagues in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the kind folks in Memorial’s Technical Services Division,” explained Dr. Lye.
One of the first projects was to design a walker for a 58-year-old gentleman who had cerebral palsy.
“He wanted a walker like the one he had used as a kid. He had a hard time describing it to us, but through our volunteers, we found it in an old catalogue from 1958 and we replicated it for him. He was in tears when we gave it to him. He was so happy,” explained Dr. Lye.
The St. John’s Chapter is the only chapter that doesn’t charge its clients for services and products.
“Many of our clients don’t have the means to pay. It’s just better to say, it’s free and don’t worry about payment. So, we do a fair amount of fundraising and we receive some grants as well,” he explained.
The chapter is based out of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial and, as a result, some of the projects become term projects for engineering undergraduate students enrolled in engineering design courses.
“A recent project for first year engineering students was to design a guitar stand for a young lady with cerebral palsy. After receiving the custom-made stand she was able to play the guitar for a longer period of time without anyone’s assistance. A Term 8 project, from a few years ago, was to design something to detect hazards for the visually impaired. The students designed a system where a wet floor sign or door that shouldn’t be opened would transmit a signal to the client communicate there are potential hazards ahead” said Dr. Lye.
It comes as no surprise that the chapter that doesn’t charge is also the busiest, according to the national Tetra Society co-ordinator. Dr. Lye estimates they have helped over 60 clients to date. Recently, Dr. Lye and the St. John’s Chapter of the Tetra Society received the Glenn Roy Blundon Award for excellence in disability accommodation.
“I am extremely grateful for this recognition. Helping people, who may not otherwise have the means to find a solution on their own, is very rewarding. For me, it’s a reason to be an engineer. I am very thankful for all the volunteers and support over the years. This was my initiative and my vision but I couldn’t have done this without a lot of other people and their commitment and expertise,” said Dr. Lye.
For more information on Tetra Society and the local chapter and how you can become involved, visit www.tetrasociety.org.