ADA 20th Anniversary: Ode to the Digital Level and Other Tools of the “Accessiologist” Trade

by Jennifer Skulski
"Low tech" inclinometer on laminated paper.As we close in on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is sure to be much pontification on what has changed and what has stayed the same over the last two decades. One thing is for certain, technology has helped to educate millions of consumers, advocates and recreation practitioners on the ADA regulations. Advancements in technology, software and digital tools have made the life work of the “accessiologist” (one who studies or advocates for the improvement of accessibility for people with disabilities, aka “accessibility coordinator”) much more efficient. 
We have been doing some spring cleaning at NCA and sent scores of documents off to the recycling bin because the information is now available on the web. There is no longer the need for a print copy of the DOJ guide on service animals….for now it’s on the WEB! Gone are three ragged copies of ADAAG with faded yellow highlighted pages. The new ADA-ABA… is on the WEB! Out went the list of centers for independent living last revised in 1998. The current list is…yes….on the WEB! I can remember “back in the day” (circa 1994), calling either the Access Board, DOJ or the Great Lakes ADA Center with a technical assistance question and the staff would fax back the relevant section of either ADAAG or Title II. Now, our first step is to either go to, or for quick searches and instant responses.
Digital Smart Level in use.As we continued to purge boxes during the spring cleaning, there was an interesting, albeit archaic, measuring tool that was discovered. It was a paper laminated inclinometer. This version, designed at the Cal Poly Design Institute, was fashioned to measure slope the “low tech” way. The bottom edge of the laminated sheet was placed parallel to the environmental slope with the right corner positioned uphill. Then a weighted line dropped from the center of the sheet would point to the corresponding slope ratio. Imagine yourself during an accessibility assessment down on your hands and knees trying to read the corresponding slope ratio along the 500 ft path from the accessible parking to the entrance. Thank goodness California carpenter, Andrew G. Butler, followed through on his idea to combine the bubble-type spirit level with digital electronics to develop and launch the first SmartLevel in 1989 (read more about the History of the SmartLevel: Records of Wedge Innovations, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, 2007). 

Digital level application for iPhone.The digital level has certainly made the assessment work of the accessiologist so much easier when it comes to identifying physical barriers for people with mobility impairments. So too goes for the digital camera. The accessiologist was once limited by the number of photos and amount of film that could be carried on an assessment. Now our assessment teams can take hundreds of pictures to graphically communicate areas requiring accessibility improvements and document the “before” and “after” makeovers. 

Who would have ever thought 20 years ago that today’s smart phone users would be able to say “There’s an app for that” and use a smart phone to both measure the slope and take a digital photo or video of the barrier? Many of us were still getting over the amazing idea of adding the rope to the hook of the fish scale in order to measure the opening force for doors.


How has technology contributed to your accessibility management program? 

Do you have predictions for how technology will benefit accessibility management in the next 20 years? 

Share your thoughts, send us an e-mail. We’ll post your comments in the next issue.