Gary Birch (electrical engineer)

Gary Birch (electrical engineer)
Gary Birch

Gary Birch 2009
Born 20 October 1957 (1957-10-20) (age 54)
Residence Vancouver, BC Canada
Fields Electrical Engineering
Biomedical Signal Processing
Alma mater University of Victoria
University of British Columbia
Known for Brain-Computer Interface Research
Assistive Technology
Disability Advocacy
Notable awards Silver Medal 60m Wheelchair Race Paralympics (1980)
Terry Fox Hall of Fame (1988)
Order of Canada (2010)

Gary Birch, OC is a Canadian Paralympian, an expert in Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology and Executive Director of the Neil Squire Society. In 1975, Dr. Birch was involved in an automobile accident which resulted in injuries to the C6 and C7 area of his spine making him a low-level quadriplegic. He was one of the original players of Murderball (wheelchair rugby), and won several medals in the 1980 Summer Paralympics in the Netherlands. In 2008, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He continues to champion accessibility through his Research and Development work in assistive technologies at the University of British Columbia and with the Neil Squire Society.


Early and academic life

Born October 20, 1957, Gary Birch grew up in Calgary, Alberta. In high school, he was an A student and co-captain of his school football team. Dr. Birch was set to begin studying Engineering at the University of Calgary in 1975 when his life was changed forever by the motor vehicle accident that injured his spine making him a quadriplegic. It took 4 months of acute care and 4 months of rehabilitation at the G.F. Strong Centre in Vancouver for Dr. Birch to begin adjusting to his new life in a wheelchair. In the autumn of 1976, he enrolled in the Pre-Engineering program at the University of Victoria. He earned his B.A. Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 1983, and in 1988 received a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering (Biomedical Signal Processing), from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Dr. Birch competed in the 1980 Summer Paralympics in the Netherlands. There he won the silver medal in the 60m wheelchair race and two bronze medals in swimming, in the 25m backstroke and in the 3 x 25m freestyle relay. Gary was also one of the first participants in Wheelchair Rugby.

In 1982, while attending a lecture at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Birch met a man who would end up influencing the next 30 years of his life, Bill Cameron (Founder, Neil Squire Society). Mr. Cameron had been working with his relative, a high level quadriplegic named Neil Squire, to develop a Morse code based, sip-and-puff communication system for people with severe physical disabilities. Dr. Birch was excited about the emerging technology and knew he wanted to be a part of it. He and another student taught Neil Squire to communicate on the computer by using the sip-and-puff technique. Upon Squire’s death in 1984, Cameron formally incorporated the Neil Squire Society. Dr. Birch became its chair and joined the society on a full-time basis when he completed graduate school.

It was at that time that Dr. Birch began work on his Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) project. He chose to research the use of Electroencephalography (EEG) signals from the brain because he felt it would be the most direct type of signal and would be the best form of control for someone with a severe disability. He continues to be involved in Research and Development and is considered by many to be Canada’s foremost expert on Brain-Computer Interface technology.

Recent achievements

In 1994, Dr. Birch became the Executive Director of the Neil Squire Society. Under his watch, the Society continues to empower Canadians with physical disabilities using technology, knowledge, and passion. He is also currently an Adjunct Professor at both the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of the University of British Columbia, and at the Gerontology Department of Simon Fraser University.

Dr. Birch was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons for extraordinary contributions to enriching the quality of life for people with physical disabilities. He was also awarded the British Columbia Paraplegic Association’s Leadership Award

The University of British Columbia Alumni Association honored Dr. Birch with a Global Citizen Award in 2009. The award recognizes UBC graduates who have made a significant contribution to the betterment of the global community through one or more of the following: research initiatives, teaching, social, cultural or artistic innovation, healthcare, economic development, human rights and environmental protection.

On October 23, 2008, Dr. Birch was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor for lifetime achievement, for his work with the Neil Squire Society. Governor General Michaëlle Jean invested him into the Order on April 7, 2010, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

He continues to live in Vancouver with his wife, daughter and son while furthering the cause of accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Professional affiliation and memberships

Secretary of the Board of the Rick Hansen Institute

Member of the Rick Hansen Institute Translational Research Advisory Committee (TRAC)

Member of the BC SCI Community Services Network Steering Committee

Member of the Advisory committee for the Bell Mobile Telecommunications Accessibility Initiative

Member of the Technical Advisory Committee for HRSDC on the Data Strategy on People With Disabilities

Accessibility Discussion Group for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Global Accessibility Initiative Steering Committee, Rick Hansen Foundation

Adjunct Professor at UBC, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Adjunct Professor, SFU, Gerontology Research Program

Chair of the Minister’s National Advisory Committee for Industry Canada on Assistive Devices

Member of the Institute for Computing, Information & Cognitive Systems (ICICS) Faculty of Applied Science, University of British Columbia

Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)

Member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC)

Member of the Executive Technical Committee on Assistive Technologies for Persons with Disabilities for the Canadian Standards Association

Member of the Research Advisory and Review Committee for GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre

Member of the Advisory Committee for the Disabilities Health Research Network in British Columbia

Member of the Task Force representing Disability Advocacy Groups and Telecommunication Companies on Accessible Telecommunications in response to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Deferral Accounts

Member of the Sub-committee on Access to Technology for Council of Canadians with Disabilities

Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee on employment issues for BC Region of the Federal Government and the Provincial Government of BC

Selected technical publications

“Preferences for Next Generation Emergency Services For People with Disabilities” In the Proceedings of the Festival of International Conferences on CAREGIVING, DISABILITY, AGING, AND TECHNOLOGY (FICCDAT), Toronto, ON, June 2011 with D. Leland and Harry Lew.

"A Simple Approach to Find the Best Wavelet Basis in Classification Problems," In the Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Pattern Recognition (ICPR), Istanbul, Turkey, August 2010, pp. 641-644. doi 10.1109/icpr2010.162. with Farhad Faradji and Rabab K. Ward.

“Online Removal of Eye Movement and Blink EEG Artifacts Using a High Speed Eye Tracker”, IEEE Trans. Biomed. Eng.,Jan.2011 with Noureddin, B., Lawrence, P.D..

“The Development of a Sensory Substitution System for the Sexual Rehabilitation of Men with Chronic Spinal Cord Injury.” Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2010 Aug No. 30. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.01997.x with J. Borisoff, S. Elliott and S. Hocaloski.

“Plausibility Assessment of a 2-State Self-Paced Mental Task-Based BCI Using the No-Control Performance Analysis,” Journal of Neuroscience Methods, Vol. 180, No. 2, pp. 330–339, June 2009 with F. Faradji and R.K. Ward.

“A self-paced brain interface system with a low false positive rate,” J. Neural Eng, Vol. 5, pp. 9-23, 2008 with M. Fatourechi and R.K. Ward

“Linear and nonlinear methods for brain-computer interfaces,” IEEE Trans. Neural Syst. Rehabil. Eng., Vol. 11, pp. 165-169, 2003 with K.R. Muller and C.W. Anderson.

“Current trends in brain-computer interface research at the Neil Squire Foundation,” IEEE Trans. Neural Syst. Rehabil. Eng., Vol. 11, pp. 123-126, 2003 with S.G. Mason and J. F. Borisoff

“Initial on-line evaluations of the LF-ASD brain-computer interface with able-bodied and spinal-cord subjects using imagined voluntary motor potentials,” IEEE Trans Neural Sys Reh Eng, Vol. 10, pp. 219-224, 2002 with Z. Bozorgzadeh and S.G. Mason.

“Brain-computer interface research at the Neil Squire Foundation,” IEEE Trans. Rehabil. Eng., Vol. 8, pp. 193-195, 2000 with S.G. Mason.

“An Assessment Methodology and its Application to a Robotic Vocational Device”, Technology and Disability 5 (1996), pp. 151-165, August, 1996 with M. Fengler, R. Gosine, K. Schroeder, M. Schroeder, and D. Johnson.

“Research and Development of Adaptive Equipment for Persons with Significant Disabilities and the Elderly: Activities Conducted by the Neil Squire Foundation,” Tech and Disability, Vol. 4, pp. 169-173, 1995 with J.R. Watzke and C. Bolduc.

“Single-trial processing of event-related potentials using outlier information,” IEEE Trans. Biomed. Eng., Vol. 40, pp. 59-73, Jan. 1993 with P.D. Lawrence and R.D. Hare.

“Development and Methodology for the Formal Evaluation of the Neil Squire Foundation Robotic Assistive Appliance,” Robotica, Vol. 11, pp. 529-534, 1993.


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