Denis Anson, M.S., O.T.R., director of research and development for the Assistive Technology Research Institute (ATRI) at Misericordia University, has worn a lot of different hats in his professional career. Each one — from construction worker to researcher and professor to occupational therapist — has moved him one step closer to achieving an altruistic goal.
"My goal is to change the world," Anson says matter-of-factly, "and make our environment accessible to everyone through objective standards that are easily determined through a series of yes-no, pass-fail answers that just about anyone can employ.''
By utilizing the expertise he's acquired during his 30 years of practice and application of assistive technology and occupational therapy strategies, Anson has devised and brought to market the Americans with Disabilities Act — Compliance Assessment Toolkit or ADA-CAT to measure whether public facilities are in compliance with the federal law that was enacted 20 years ago.
"Because the ADA guidelines and checklists are written by engineers, they are not always in language that non-engineers can understand,'' says Anson. "And, some of the concepts are difficult to explain. By utilizing the toolkit, it is easy to determine if a doorway or light switch or a handicap accessible ramp meet federal guidelines.''
The ADA-CAT is a screening tool that allows people without advanced technical training to assess the architectural barriers of the built environment, according to Anson. The kit is composed of two parts — the audits and measurement kit. The audits define the characteristics of an accessible and usable environment and feature a scoring system that produces a numerical score for accessibility and usability compliance. It is available online at http://ada-cat.misericordia.edu. The measurement kit is a set of 11 instruments that have been developed to allow individuals to quickly determine whether or not features of the environment meet the standards of the ADA and audits, like a turning radius for a wheel chair or height requirements for outlets, grab bars and shower seats.
The ATRI-designed kit costs about $500 and has been developed and manufactured for market by the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Institute of Wooster, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pa., a non-profit organization. The cost includes one-year access to the website which is maintained by ATRI, and costs $70 annually after the introductory year. Proceeds from the sale of ADA-CAT are shared evenly between ATRI and the AAC Institute.
The concept for the ADA-CAT was born in a nondescript, academic setting at Misericordia University. In teaching the Environmental Aspects of Disabilities course for MU's occupational therapy program, Anson noticed that some of his students did not clearly understand the complicated ADA standards for signage, slopes and other applications. "Some of the standards for accessibility are hard to grasp without actual demonstration. In an effort to find a better way to enable the students, I came up with instruments to help them test the difficult features more easily," he explains.
His rudimentary, hand-built prototypes were developed further with the assistance of design engineers at Pride Mobility Corporation in Exeter, Pa., the world's leading designer and manufacturer of personal mobility products. The end result is a product that offers quick answers to questions of accessibility. The multifaceted Story Stick, for example, identifies barriers to wheeled accessibility along sidewalks and hallways, while also measuring a wide-range of height requirements from desktops to light switches. The kit also includes the Multi Tool, Door Force Tool, Stop Watch, Key Torque Tool, Spirit Level, Light Level Meter, Magic Slope Block, Sound Level Meter, Font Guide and Tape Measure.
"Slopes are specified by the ADA in grade ratios such as 1:12 or 1:48,'' Anson says, explaining how the Magic Slope Block is utilized for the complicated measurement. "People with limited math skills may find it difficult to assess slopes. The block takes the difficulty out of the process by providing a simple pass-fail test."
The standards for accessible signage, likewise, are very complex. They are described in terms of ratios that are based on the height of a letter. The ratios are complex enough that many sign makers cannot reliably interpret them, according to Anson. The ADA-CAT Font Guide helps determine whether signage meets mandated requirements. "Although the allowable sizes are hard to figure without a tool," says Anson, "the Font Guide allows an assessor to test whether the letter height, width, spacing and line-spacing meet ADA guidelines without performing any mathematical calculations. All the calculations are done by the tool in one, simple adjustment."
Is that fire extinguisher extended too far out from the wall? Does the height of water flow from a drinking fountain meet acceptable standards? The Multi Tool can determine that. The Door Force Tool measures whether a door is too hard to open or close. The Key Tool assesses the ability of a person with limited hand function to turn a key in a lock. The Sound Level and Light Level meters check whether sounds and illumination are in appropriate specified ranges. The Tape Measure marks the width of hallways and doors, the height of signage and barriers, and clearances under desks and tables.
The market for the kit includes occupational and physical therapists who teach others how to assess facilities for ADA compliance. It also includes managers of public facilities ranging from schools to independent living centers to public parks and county fair grounds. Disability support groups in communities could also use it.
Assistive Technology Research Institute