2001 Conference Proceedings

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Data Tracking: A Necessary Evil

Abbie O'Sullivan, MSW
Coordinator of Adaptive Computing
University of Missouri
S5D Memorial Union
Columbia MO 65211
573-882-6525
Email: abigail@missouri.edu

Intro Background Info

The University of Missouri-Adaptive Computing Technology (ACT) Center has existed on campus for over a decade. One of the original founders, Darren Gabbert, who was a graduate student with a disability and now Project Director of ACT, wanted to make sure that he and other students had equal access to computing resources. They started developing a program and called it the Adaptive Computing Technology Center. The focus has been the practical use of adaptive and standard products and excellent individualized training. We are located in Mid-Missouri, Columbia with a population of 75,000. The University employs the majority of the workforce in Columbia. Columbia is touted as a very disability friendly town, by the transit systems, physical buildings and curb cuts, and services.

Today

Since the Adaptive Computing program has been in existence for over a decade, there has been staff turnover and no consistent means to track data. What if we would have started tracking all of the information ten years ago, that we track today? We would have compiled a Doctoral dissertation! The paper records that were once utilized have been filed in storage, computerized records that were not backed up have been lost, and the inconsistent record keeping has lead to this great tracking system that we utilize today.

Everyone needs to keep track of data in some capacity in our lives. For example, each of us have address books or palm pilot technologies for phone numbers and addresses, and our own calendars. If you have a business you must keep records and generate reports. Some of us have customer and client information that has to be recorded, and reports written. There is data that everyone has to keep and be responsible for when upper management or someone asks for a report. It seems so logical that we would choose and use a tracking system that is as simple or complex as we need to assist us in keeping track of our information and one that will assist us in writing good reports. So we decided to use technology to make our lives easier.

We wanted to develop a database that would help us work smarter and not harder. Our upper management always states we can’t be "burning diamonds for heat." My manager was always asking me for numbers on this or how many students have we worked with that have learning disabilities, which products did they use, what were the outcomes, how many training hours did we spend with Humpty Dumpty? We also spend a lot of time on adaptive technology reports for customers and agencies outside of the University. We wanted to develop parts of the database to assist with writing the reports, and then are able to keep the data there as a reference point. We needed more information, than our current database provided, to answer all of these questions.

There are many database programs available on the market and quite a few have been tested for accessibility. Within the field of adaptive computing it is common for service providers to have various disabilities, therefore driving the need for accessible databases. At the University of Missouri, we use Microsoft Office (R) products and Access 2000 is the database we have chosen to utilize. An article written by Crista Earl, for the American Foundation for the Blind detailed the accessibility of many databases, and included Access through screen reading technologies. The article ranked Access in Group 2, it is the database that persons with visual impairments want to be able to use the most. There are some limitations listed for Access 2000, yet improvements have been made over Access 97. Our staff has utilized Access with Dragon Dictate and NaturallySpeaking. Dictate has some limitations and so does NaturallySpeaking. Access seems to work well with Zoomtext. Currently our staff members use Dictate and NaturallySpeaking; so we needed to make sure that access to Access was important.

We started using Access in a very basic table to keep the most necessary information on our customers, students, faculty and staff members. Then we decided that it would make our lives easier if we fully utilized the features of the program. We decided we could use it to assist with writing our Technology Assessments, our billing procedures, tracking customers, students, faculty and staff, tracking our training hours, tracking our technical support hours per customer, to have information for grant writing and reporting, and writing reports for upper management. We wanted a system that was practically paperless, so all of our immediate staff had access to the information at all times via computer. We also wanted to make sure it was going to be on a secure server and backed up regularly so it information would not be lost. So after we had our main idea, we decided to expand our current simple database into a more relational, robust database.

Our first step, was to map out what we wanted to develop and why. After we mapped it out, we increased our knowledge on Access and found an expert within our computing department that could assist us with all features that required some programming in visual basic. After we started developing the tracking system, we saw things in it that we felt needed to be different or changed. We implemented the database by putting in bogus data and testing it by doing various queries and reports, changing customer information, and making various forms for entering data. Now we are at the step of maintaining our relational database, and updating as needed.

Since confidentiality was a concern, we had to make sure that the information was kept confidential for our customers. Our data was placed on a server called Mizzou2. Mizzou2 runs on a box NetWare 5, which I was assured is very difficult to hack into. The Adaptive Computing folder that exists on this server has permissions set so that only the current ACT center staff have access to the information within this folder. The Access Customer database resides inside this folder. Another benefit of using Mizzou2 is that if you have the specific IP address, you can access the information through the web. This could be helpful if you are across campus or anywhere with web access you can get to the information you need.

There are several lessons that we have learned through the process and many benefits that we have gained in time and knowledge. We would like to show you the database with some fictional data in it so you can see what we track and how it looks. The five main categories that we track are Customers, Adaptive Assessments, Technical Support, Training Plan, and Session Report. We have Braille handouts for anyone who needs them as I show the database overhead.

Demonstration of Database and explanation of how it works in detail. Questions and Answers.

References

Boyington, Tomlinson & Dougherty. "Using a Relational Database to Support Nursing Research." Computers in Nursing 17 (1999): 269-274.

Earl-CL. "Access to Databases-Which Windows Database Programs Work Best with Screen Readers." Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness 93 (1999): 522-529.

Microsoft (R). "Discovering Microsoft Office 2000 Premium and Professional: Chapter 6 Using Access 2000." Microsoft Accessibility. 26 Sept 00 www.microsoft.com/enable/download/products/office/o2kprem/access.txt

Muralidhar K., Parsa R., & Sarathy, R. "A General Additive Data Perturbation Method for Database-Security." Management Science 45 (1999): 1399-1415.

Neely, Ronald. "Mizzou2" E-mail to the author. 25 Sept 00.


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