Tetra was founded in 1987 in Vancouver, British Columbia, by Sam Sullivan, a C4-5 incomplete quadriplegic, who later went on to become mayor of his city and to win appointment to the Order of Canada for his work on behalf of people with disabilities. He served as Canada's ambassador to the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, which was held in Vancouver and Whistler, BC.
This is his personal account:
I vividly remember the extreme frustration I felt when I first moved out on my own. I had become a quadriplegic as a result of a skiing accident which left me with limited use of my arms and no use of my fingers.
I was anxious to get work and get out of the standard predicament of publicly subsidized housing and a publicly subsidized attendant twice a day. But I couldn't use the washroom, shower, cook on my own. I couldn't even turn the doorknob to get out of my own apartment! I remember feeling quite lonely, wondering if I was the only one living this nightmare. It wasn’t long before I found that I was not alone; there were many frustrated people struggling with things so basic that most people would never think twice about them.
A number of us who were struggling to get on with our lives began meeting in the basement of the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre. We all felt relieved to be able to share our mutual frustrations and struggles. One day I wrote a letter to the Association of Professional Engineers of B.C., asking them for assistance. Soon afterwards, Paul Cermak, a professional engineer, walked through my door and offered to help. To me, the man was nothing short of an angel – he worked more or less full-time for about six months solving so many vexing problems and helping me achieve the independence I was looking for. Not long afterwards he and other volunteer engineers started working on projects to help others in our group. We later formalized our efforts under the name, “Tetra Development Society.”
Somehow the word got out about the wonderful volunteers that we had discovered and we found ourselves wondering what to do about the request for a flute holder in Arizona or the wheelchair mud flaps in New Brunswick. After much soul searching we decided to offer our advice and systems to any group or person that asked. At that point we changed our name to “Tetra Society of North America.”
I hope our successes will inspire other technically skilled volunteers to use their creative energies to help individuals in need and disabled people to expand their vision of what's possible for their lives.