Press release

Patient Operator Selector Mechanisms - 'I can!'

7 August 2012

In 1961 the children’s charity Action Medical Research awarded a research grant to support the development of ‘Patient Operator Selector Mechanisms’. Reg Maling and Derek Clarkson at Stoke Mandeville undertook the research. Within six months the first device was made, giving the paralysed patient control over bells, lights, radios, telephones and televisions.

Reg Maling called his invention Patient Operated Selector Mechanism, or POSM. Based on this, the word POSSUM – Latin for 'I can' – was chosen as the name for the Company. Gaining the capacity to do everyday tasks can have a liberating, inspiring and transformational impact on individual lives. The charity also funded Stoke Mandeville's trailblazer Dr Ludwig Guttmann, knighted in 1966, in his pioneering work to rehabilitate patients through sport.

Environmental controls room
Nellie Dadge is the Occupational Therapist at Dame Hannah Rogers Trust, Devon. Dame Hannah’s offer educational, residential and respite facilities for children and young adults with complex physical disabilities, including visual, hearing or sensory impairments.
Nellie helped to set up an Environmental Controls room at the Trust. The room is set up as a ‘lounge’. Equipment in the room, including TV, lights, radio, iPod and ceiling fan, is operated by different remote control devices and switches. These devices enable people with severe disabilities to carry out everyday tasks.

“Primarily my job is to help young people to develop their functional abilities and their independence. Part of what I do is to alter or adapt environments so that they are more accessible, so that the young people can do the things that others their age do,” explains Nellie.

“Our brilliant new room opened at the end of 2011. It has a range of operating equipment including a POSSUM Freeway and a POSSUM Primo controller. These assistive technology devices enable people with physical difficulties to operate everything in the room: including TV, lights, radio, robots, vacuum cleaner and iPod, to name a few,” says Nellie

Young people with physical disabilities are often unable to express themselves using speech. Speech and Language Therapist, Nicola Blundell explains: “At Dame Hannah Rogers Trust, the Speech and Language Therapy department help the young people realise their expressive potential by providing them with the alternative means of communication, including sophisticated voice output communication aids.”

Using a switch with a POSSUM controller to operate the things around them, people can make choices and can express their interests. “Some of the items in our environmental control room are very motivating, such as the disco lights or switch activated toys which can encourage our young people to develop their ability to use switches – and this helps them to develop their ability to communicate,” says Nicola.

Around 44 young people from Dame Hannah’s have regular access to the assistive technology in the assessment centre. “Our most used piece of POSSUM equipment is the Freeway. It is set up with various ‘overlays’ which can be changed according to the individual needs of each user. We have it set up to work on four levels, from very basic – turning on the disco ball or radio – to more complex overlays with up to 16 tasks to choose from. For example, you might choose to turn on the TV, select a channel and adjust the volume. At the same time, you might decide to close the window and blind and adjust the room temperature,” Nellie tells us.

The POSSUM Freeway device has a large, bright visual cue as it scans through the choices on offer and is set up using symbols that the young people are familiar with. It also has an auditory prompt which helps the users to make choices if their vision is poor. “A lot of our young people cannot physically operate appliances or remote controls, but can use the POSSUM controller by pressing a switch with their hand, cheek or by whichever means works for them,” says Nellie.

The POSSUM Primo can operate everything in the room and is portable so it can be mounted to a wheelchair or a tray. “What is brilliant about this device is that it can be operated by a switch or by touching the screen. The Primo is good for users with higher cognitive functioning; it allows the user to move between different menus and complete more complex tasks such as programming the POSSUM telephone or choosing a programme from the TV guide on Freeview or Sky” explains Nellie.

“The POSSUM equipment in our assessment centre has been very empowering for our young people. It is being used regularly to increase independence and build life skills – helping our young people to make choices, express themselves and communicate,” says Nicola.

Matthew and Kieran
Matthew, 22, and Kieran, 18, are two regular visitors to the environmental control room. Matthew uses the room to relax in. He likes to open the door and drive in, in his powered wheelchair. Using the Freeway controller, he turns off the lights, opens the window and puts the ceiling fan on. Then he can just chill out. Sometimes he chooses to turn the TV on. “Matthew is really developing skills in sequencing and likes being in control when he is in the room. It is very empowering for him,” say the therapists.

“Kieran loves his television. He has to work really hard when he is in the room using the POSSUM equipment – but he thoroughly enjoys it. He has to be focused to turn the TV on and not the radio, as the timer is set to move to the next selection every 3.5 seconds. If he makes a mistake, he knows how to have another go, and is able to select a channel for his favourite programmes. When he moves on from Dame Hannah’s, a POSSUM Freeway would help him to have control and choice about his own environment,” Nellie suggests.

POSSUM technology helps empower people and give them command over their environments, helping them to be independent and feel equal. Nellie sums up, “At Dame Hannah’s this technology has given us another tool to help develop sequencing, waiting, timing, concentration and also switching skills. It gives great job satisfaction to see the pleasure it gives our young people to have control over their environment, and independence it gives them.”

Still more to do
More than £100 million has been invested by Action Medical Research into vital medical research over the past 60 years, which has led to some key scientific breakthroughs and helped thousands of babies and children.

The charity today funds research that continues a proud history of helping to reduce the suffering endured by children with disabilities caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, blindness or learning disabilities.

Although the research funded has helped save and change so many children’s lives, there is still so much more to learn about what triggers disability causing disease, how to prevent these and how to develop effective new treatments and technologies.

- ENDS -

NOTES TO EDITORS:

For further information please contact:
Toni Slater, Interim Communications Manager
T: 01403 327478
E: tslater@action.org.uk
W: action.org.uk

Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children
 

But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.