Renowned OT pioneer Fred Sammons Archives website launched

Posted on April 18, 2017
Roger O. Smith and Fred Sammons (right), at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) national conference

Fred Sammons (on right) with CHS Professor Roger O. Smith, at the 2017 American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) national conference.

Fred Sammons, PhD (Hon.), OT, FAOTA, is a renowned expert in his chosen fields of occupational therapy and assistive technology, and the founder of the Fred Sammons Company. He is fondly known as the “Button King” because of the special buttonhooks he designed for ease of dressing, and sold through his one-person mail-order business.

In 2014, Sammons donated to UWM his life’s work that includes a sizeable collection of catalogues, memorabilia, diaries and other items from his long career as an occupational therapist, inventor and business owner.

The collection of items and interviews have now been organized, digitized and published online as the Fred Sammons Archives. The digital collection will act as a historical record and searchable database available to researchers, students and professionals worldwide.

An idea and innovative spirit help grow a multimillion-dollar business

Sammons is known for the adaptive devices he created and distributed and the eponymous company he developed. In 1960, Sammons joined the staff of the amputee clinic at Northwestern University where he began to design and build devices to assist individuals with disabilities in their everyday activities. His company started as a mail order business in 1958 and today, known as Sammons Preston, is a multimillion-dollar national business.

Sammons continues to give back to the profession through grants, scholarships and donations that support research, education and clinical programs. He is one of American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) “100 Influential People in the Profession.”

The official launch of The Fred Sammons Archives

When Sammons made his donation to UWM in 2014, there were dozens of boxes filled with catalogues, memorabilia, diaries, sketches, prototypes and other items from his business which spanned decades. They needed to be sorted, digitized, cataloged and made available to users.

Students in the College’s Rehabilitation Research Design & Disability (R2D2) Center and the Department of Occupational Science & Technology, and many others, organized the contents. Sammons also participated in many hours of videotaped interviews with OT Professor and R2D2 Director Roger O. Smith, PhD, OT, FAOTA, RESNA Fellow.

It is fitting that the archives were given to UWM, then called the Milwaukee-Downer College, because this is the first liberal arts college to have a department and a course of study in occupational therapy. The launch is also very timely, as occupational therapy celebrates 100 years as a profession this year.

Sammons said, “I’m delighted that I can support UWM’s College of Health Sciences, the Department of Occupational Science & Technology and the R2D2 Center with my work. I’ve had a long career and am grateful to the many people whom I’ve met along the way. I hope that my experiences and my work can be a helpful resource for students and professionals for years to come.”

Focus on accessibility

As with all of R2D2’s work, special consideration was taken to make the site fully accessible for people with varying physical and mental limitations. This includes equivalent text descriptions for all images and prototypes, audio introductions and transcripts for all videos, and a high contrast interface for those using screen-readers. The archives also feature audio of Sammons himself explaining many of the hand-written notes and sketches available on the site.

All of Sammons’ life’s work, including 70 physical prototypes, over 4,800 pages of documentation and over 10 hours of video, will be available worldwide in May at a specially created web site.

Fred Sammons Archives Project Contributors

Special thanks to the following people for their hard work on the project:

  • Roger O. Smith, Professor, R2D2 Director
  • Emily Whitlock, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Kathryn E. Koch, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Caitlin Dobson, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Megan Schreiber, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Colleen Regan, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Ariana Pelkey, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Nicole Latzig, Occupational Therapy graduate student
  • Jack Skelton-Miller, Information Sciences undergraduate student
  • Jessica McCall, Information Sciences graduate student
  • Drew Williams, Programmer, Computational Sciences Marquette PhD student
  • Meg Zimont, Graphics & User-Interface Designer, R2D2 staff
  • Nathan Spaeth, Programmer, R2D2 staff
  • Many others at R2D2 who performed many rounds of testing

Also, thank you to Fred Sammons and his family and friends for all of their help and contributions!

Read more about the 2017 Centennial AOTA Conference.