Have you ever given any consideration to the height of the opening on a vending machine? Do you think twice when walking under an open stairwell?
Most of us do these things on auto-pilot.
Misericordia University professor Denis Anson thinks of nothing else. Anson is the director of research and development for the Assistive Technology Research Institute or ATRI, a program dedicated to teaching and applying the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Noxen resident has devised and brought to market the Americans with Disabilities Act-Compliance Assessment Toolkit or ADA-CAT, which measures whether public buildings are compliant with the federal laws.
The toolkit uses very basic instruments to measure every area of accessibility. Some of these instruments are everyday items such as a tape measure and a level but others, like the Key Torque Tool and the Story Stick, are custom designed by Anson to eliminate the math and decoding of the standards.
Anson explained that a lot of disabilities are things the general public doesn't think about. For example, people may consider wheelchair bound disabilities or blindness, but many don't consider deafness, low vision and limited mobility when determining accessibility options.
I had the opportunity to visit with Anson and experience some of these limitations first hand. I was fitted with thick suede gloves, making it nearly impossible to button my coat or even open a door. The gloves simulated serious arthritis or semi-paralytic mobility brought on by a stroke.
Suddenly, very simple tasks become more complex, said Anson as I struggled.
Goggles smeared with paste made it difficult for me to see. Though it was not impossible and I could still make out a doorway and walk down the hall, I was unable to make out people's faces or dial a large numbered telephone. The goggles simulate how individuals with low vision experience everyday life.
I also had the opportunity to travel part of Misericordia's campus in a traditional wheelchair. Upon entering one of the university buildings that afternoon, I took notice to the ramps, elevators and handrails that seemed to be everywhere, but I soon learned that a ramp itself does not make a building accessible.
One ramp was so steep, I could barely maneuver the wheelchair to the top of it and, once I reached the top, a door stared me in the face. The opened toward me and was not wide enough for the chair to fit through.
I needed Anson to open the adjoining door from the inside while I held onto the railing to keep from rolling backwards down the steep ramp.
People with disabilities are often faced with these kinds of problems. Anson explained that ADA standards are written by what he calls a combination of lawyer, engineer and architect, and are difficult for most people to read and understand. This leads to misinterpretations and building errors. The Toolkit Anson designed eliminates guess work and makes building accessibility as simple as pass/fail.
Accompanied by an online database component, Anson's system is easy for assessment, recording and sharing with clients. His hope is that the kit will make compliance with ADA regulations something any contractor, nurse or occupational therapist can determine in no time with no in-depth training.
The ATRI and the College of Professional Studies and Social Sciences at Misericordia University, with the Augmentative and Alternative Communication Institute, is hosting Teaching Accessibility: Beyond the Classroom, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26. The all-day conference costs $125 and the deadline to register is Oct. 23.