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ADA Made Accessible
Monday May 23, 2011

(Photo courtesy of Denis Anson, OTR)


Denis Anson, OTR, MS, wants to change the world — one sidewalk slope, entrance ramp, light switch and grip bar at a time.

“I was teaching a class on environmental aspects of disability to OT students,” says Anson, director of research for the Assistive Technology Research Institute at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. “Some of the ADA standards for facilities accessibility are hard to grasp without actual demonstration. So I’d get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look all teachers get from time to time when we see that students aren’t quite getting it.”

However, one of the biggest obstacles he sees to expanding accessibility to people with disabilities is the one thing that was designed to help: the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Anson set out to improve understanding of the ADA guidelines. He started by creating simple tools using everyday materials that students could use in the community to assess facilities for compliance, based on ADA standards.

“OTs are trained to think three dimensionally and look at the world to help patients access their environment to the best of their ability,” Anson says. “My goal is to change the world with objective standards that are easily determined through a series of yes-no, pass-fail answers that just about anyone can employ.”

Many tools and years later, Anson has bundled his instruments and insights together into what is known today as the Americans with Disabilities Act — Compliance Assessment Toolkit. It includes a number of hardware tools and an interactive website that provides checklists of what to measure and how to measure it.

While the kit and website are available to anyone with a vested interest in understanding ADA and accessibility, OTs may find the ADA-CAT helps validate and even improve on some of the instinctive knowledge they already have.

“A lot of OTs are thinking intuitively in the right direction when they look at environmental accessibility,” says Roger O. Smith, OT, PhD, FAOTA, RESNA fellow, a professor of the department of occupational science and technology and director of the Rehabilitation Research Design & Disability Center in Milwaukee. He brainstormed with Anson early on about his tools and encouraged Anson to make them available to the public. “I think the ADA-CAT helps OTs know what the true measures are and then collect hard data to support their intuitions.”

Kit materials include:

• The Magic Slope Block: assesses the grade of a slope and tests the gaps between an elevator and building floor, as well as the allowable gaps of gratings along a pathway.

• The Story Stick: identifies barriers to wheeled accessibility along paths, hallways and rooms, things an able-bodied person might simply step over without notice.

• The Door Force Tool: measures whether a door is too hard to open or close.

• The Key Torque Tool: assesses how difficult it is for a person with limited hand function to turn a key lock.

Other elements include a Multi Tool, a Spirit Level, Font Guide, stopwatch, sound and light level meters and a measuring tape, which all come in an easy-to-carry case.

There’s also a website (, which includes audit items based on ADA accessibility standards with links to the specific guideline language.

“Many of the audits on the site go beyond the ADA requirements and are instead based on the experiences of individuals with disabilities as well as other professional input,” Anson says. “The audits also cover other aspects of living with a disability that aren’t addressed in ADA, such as document formatting and lighting, that are covered by the Rehabilitation Act.”

Anson envisions many different ways in which the kit can be used by anyone — from family members and disability advocacy groups trying to prove a lack of compliance to builders and facilities managers trying to improve accessibility.

“The problem of accessibility is not malice,” Anson says. “No one wanted to design an inaccessible world. As a society, we just don’t always think about it. I hope that the ADA-CAT empowers all sides to make changes so that the world gets better one step at a time.”

The cost for the ADA-CAT tool kit and a one-year subscription to the website is $649. After the purchase of the kit (or for those who want only website access) there is a $70 annual subscription fee. Proceeds from the sales of the ADA-CAT are shared between the Assistive Technology Research Institute and the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Institute of Ohio and Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization.

For more information visit or •

Marnie McLeod Santoyo is a freelance writer.

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Monday May 23, 2011
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