“There’s nothing you can’t do. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
There’s nothing that gives Tetra volunteer (and now Coordinator) David Harshaw more pleasure than seeing somebody do something that they previously thought impossible. Over the past 20+ years of his work with Tetra, devising solutions to address accessibility challenges, David has had many opportunities to see his philosophy and his skills bring life-changing solutions to those he serves.
David credits his infectious “can-do” attitude to his parents and two siblings. Despite him having some physical limitations due to cerebral palsy, they never cut him any slack. He rode bikes and swam with the best of them, which afforded him having the opportunity and confidence to become a world class para-athlete who travelled extensively for track and field events.
Along the way, David discovered that he could fix just about anything. He bolstered this natural talent by studying Electrical Engineering, which led him to working in a computer store for 16 years. Later, he began fixing and customizing wheelchairs, including his own. In fact, he has now designed and built his own power chair, which has a top speed of 17 mph, and a range of 35 km, which gives him access to the entire city of Windsor, ON, his hometown.
All of these factors — upbringing, natural talent, education, experience — and a hefty dose of moxie — serve to make David a stellar asset for Tetra.
He realizes that his Tetra clients have differing levels of ability, but like his siblings before him, he doesn’t accept that as an excuse. He begins by ascertaining what is physically preventing them from doing what they wish, and works to find [mostly technological] solutions. He also appreciates that confidence and perhaps lack of experience can be barriers, so after addressing the accessibility issues, he often throws down gentle challenges that foster the heady feeling of success. This approach has taken at least five of his clients from the brink of suicide to living a more fulfilled and productive life.
David has completed at least 25-30 Tetra projects of varying degrees of complexity. By combining Google Home with a Toya [wireless] switch, clients can open or lock the door to their homes with a simple verbal command. They can turn on the TV, turn off the lights or open the curtains, all from their power chair. His absolutely all-time favourite Tetra project made an entire house voice-activated in just over three weeks.
Word gets around, and now David is a victim of his own success. Everybody wants him to outfit their homes (and who can blame them?). Luckily, now as a Coordinator for Tetra in Windsor, David has managed to attract some volunteers to assist him. One is his wonderful sister Donna, who works alongside him in her garage workshop to bring his fantastic ideas to reality; another helps him with the paperwork, and the other is being empowered to create similar technical solutions to those that David employs.
Every week, David tries to complete at least one project. Luckily for him, he’s very well-connected in the city of Windsor. He knows all the therapists, medical personnel and vendors. He’s also got a great relationship with a machine shop, which makes some of the specialty parts he needs at no cost.
Despite his added responsibilities, David reports that he has never been happier. “When you love what you are doing, it’s no longer work, is it?”
But he could still use more volunteers! If you are reading this, and interested in getting to know David and lending a hand, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you David for all of that you do!