It all began in the 1960’s from the pioneering work and the enterprise of a forward thinking man, Mr Reg Maling, a research chemist. He worked with a dedicated team of individuals to harness the technology of the day, to provide greater independence for people with restricted physical ability and communication problems.
Prior to the 1960’s it wasn’t generally recognised that a disabled person could be helped to reach their full potential with the aid of technology. At the time there was very little media cover or debate to raise public awareness and Reg and his team set out to try to redress this situation.
From these beginnings the Possum Users Association (forerunner to The Sequal Trust) was formed, it’s aim being to assist very severely disabled people with the purchase of equipment, specific to their needs. The first specialist equipment for use by the disabled community was POSSUM, standing for Patient Operated Selector Mechanism.
Roger Jefcoate, CBE was a co-founder of PUA, when he was deputy leader of the team which developed the Possum device at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In 1966 he helped to persuade the then Ministry of Health to supply the Possum environmental control system to severely disabled people nationwide. During this period, the Possum team were also developing other technology designed to assist disabled people and Roger conceived the idea of starting a charity to fund these aids – the PUA was born.
The other founder members, and members of the first Committee, were Robert Bowell, David Hyde and Christopher Dowcra Jones, all of whom served as chairmen of the organisation over the years. Robert had a congenital disease which meant that his muscles did not develop, but managed to run his own accountancy based business from his home. David broke his neck playing rugby in 1955 and was paralysed from the shoulders down; he worked as a demonstrator of computer equipment for disabled people. Christopher was a practising solicitor who contracted polio in 1963, leaving him completely immobolised from the neck downwards and dependant on an iron lung night and day. Despite this, he still ran his own practice. Many other inspirational people have been committee members over the years, including Hilary Pole, described at that time as the most disabled person in the world and unable to see, speak or swallow, she managed to contribute poems and articles to our magazine using equipment driven by the very slight movement she had in her big toe.
In 1969 the name of the charity changed to Sequal (Special Equipment and Aids for Living), but the operation remained the same. In 1989 an appeal was set up with the aim of securing the long term future of the charity. The target of £250,000 was reached under the guidance of Christopher Dowcra Jones and with the help of an Appeals Committee. Lord Havers became president, a position taken over on his death and held to this day by his son, The Hon Nigel Havers. HRH Princess Michael of Kent and Professor Stephen Hawking also came on board as Patrons.
Christopher Dowcra Jones, the last surviving founder member and great inspiration to Sequal, passed away in 1997. Vice-Chairman and Specific Fundraiser, John Davies, took over as Chair, a position he held until his death in 1999. John was a muscular dystrophy sufferer who had been provided with communication equipment by Sequal, and had a very positive and determined attitude towards life. In 1999, John Redfern, who suffered from ankylosing spondilitis and was much involved with the Jack Charlton Disabled Anglers’ Association, was appointed Chairman, and remained so until his death in August 2009. Roger Jefcoate remains active as an advisor on special needs technology, mostly as a volunteer and has gone on to launch several other successful healthcare and disabilities charities and grantmaking trusts.
Today, the range of communication equipment available is truly amazing and a world away from the pioneering work that Reg began. However, the aim of The Sequal Trust remains the same; to empower each disabled member to reach their full potential and help them to fulfil their dreams and aspirations. To see the person and not the disability and provide the means to set lively minds free, continues to be our prime objective.