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Toolkit allows anyone to test for ADA compliance

Twenty years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is finally a "tool kit" for non-experts to measure whether public facilities are in compliance.

"This is designed to meet the needs of anyone who is reasonably intelligent but not necessarily a techie," explains Denis Anson, director of research for the Assistive Technology Research Institute (ATRI) at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, and the kit's developer.

The ADA-CAT (Americans with Disabilities Act - Compliance Assessment Toolkit) provides simple pass-fail assessments of ADA requirements. It comes in two parts: a physical kit with assessment instruments and a website which defines the features of an accessible and usable environment and provides "just in time" instruction on how to use the tools to measure features of the environment.

The kit costs around $500 and has been brought to market by the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Institute of Ohio and Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization. That cost includes one-year access to the website which is maintained by Misericordia University. After the purchase year, or for those who have not purchased the toolkit, a subscription to the website service costs $70 annually. Proceeds from the sale of ADA-CAT will be shared evenly between ATRI and the AAC Institute.

Mr. Anson says the market for the kit includes educators in the Occupational and Physical Therapy fields 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 make use of it.

Mr. Anson got the idea for the compliance assessment kits when he was teaching a course in environment assessment for Misericordia University's occupational therapy program.

"Some of the standards for facilities accessibility are hard to grasp without actual demonstration," he says, "and sometimes I would catch that 'deer in the headlights' look that all teachers get from time to time when we see that students aren't quite getting it. In the effort to find a better way to enable the students, I came up with instruments to help them test the difficult features more easily."

The items in the compliance assessment kit include "the StoryStick," "the Magic Slope Block," "the Multitool," "the Door Force Tool," "the Font Guide," and the "Key Torque tool." There are also sound and light level meters and a good old-fashioned measuring tape.

The Story Stick can do several things. It identifies barriers to wheeled accessibility along paths, in hallways and in rooms. "Barriers than an able-bodied assessor might step over without noticing are reliably located by the Story Stick," Anson says. It also measures a wide range of heights required by ADA. If a wall outlet is too low, the Story Stick will tell you. Ditto if a toilet seat is too high. Is there enough room for a wheel chair to turn around? The Story Stick provides the answer.

"Slopes are specified by the ADA in grade ratios such as 1:12 or 1:48. Those with limited facility in math may find assessing slopes difficult. The Magic Slope Block takes the difficulty out of the process." The Magic Slope Block provides a simple pass-fail test for all ADA-mandated slopes. In addition, it tests the maximum gaps between an elevator and the floor of a building or the maximum allowable gap in a grating that is part of an accessible path.

The ADA standards for accessible signage are very complex, and 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. The ADA-CAT Font Guide helps determine whether signage is accessible. "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 the 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 Multitool 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. And the measuring tape marks the width of hallways and doors, the height of signage and barriers and clearances under desks and tables.

"My goal is to change the world," Anson says, "with objective standards that are easily determined through a series of yes-no, pass-fail answers that just about anyone can employ."

He emphasizes that the hardware is only half of the ADA-CAT. "The website provides you with the checklists of what to measure and how to measure it. The website gives an objective measure of accessibility, and saves your results for future use."


Contact: Laura Snyder
Dick Jones Communications

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