Looking for a better way to track equipment? Advancing Opportunities in New Jersey has recently completed a review of database options for its short-term device loan program. Here Fred Tchang, director of assistive technology services, draws on that experience to provide advice for how to go about making the right decision for your program.
At Advancing Opportunities, our statewide
Technology Lending Center had been using a database that was 10 years
old, designed using an older version of Microsoft Access. We knew that
we needed a new database to help us work more efficiently and
effectively, and didn't want to design one from scratch. In the course
of reviewing database options, we created a website wiki to record and
share what we'd learned about the products used by different state
programs (see www.atmanagement.wikispaces.com
and click on Equipment Loan Databases). What the website doesn't
provide, however, is the subject of this article: the process we used
to consider our options.
Consider the SETT Framework
I was amazed at the diversity of database solutions, each designed to meet different needs. I can truly say that there is no one best solution (don't we always say that?) To find one that's right for your program, I recommend reviewing (and adapting) the SETT framework. For those unfamiliar with it, this is the collaborative decision making tool developed by Special Educator Joy Zabala to help teams identify appropriate supports and services for students with disabilities.
"S" stands for identifying your Strengths and abilities, "E" for the environment you are working in, "T" for the Tasks you are trying to perform, and "T" for the Tools that are available to you. Clarifying these points will help you make informed choices about the database options available. Below are sample database issues that relate to each of the letters in SETT to help get you started.
Strengths: How much do you know about database design? Do you know enough that you want the flexibility to create queries and reports yourself? If so, then make sure to ask if you can customize things yourself, as you can with the ones designed in Filemaker Pro. Do you have a very limited budget? Are you unable to hire a database developer to customize the database, or unable to purchase the software (such as Filemaker Pro) that runs the database? Then consider a web-based solution, such as Nebraska's, which has no software to install, and a low annual maintenance fee.
Environment: Is there primarily just one person, or one office, that is tracking the equipment loans, or do you have several centers working together? Having a web-based database (such as Nebraska AT4ALL's) makes it easy to access the information from anywhere. Pennsylvania's was designed with this model in mind, though it will require purchasing Filemaker Pro software (including the server version for your central server), if you don't own it already. Note that AT Tracker will be coming out in a web version in February 2010. See the wiki for more details.
Tasks: Do you have other services, besides just equipment loan, that you want to track? Many of the databases allow for this, to differing degrees. AT Tracker+ integrates equipment tracking with services tracking. Are you also tracking equipment purchasing for consumers/students? Ontario's database tracks this, as well as leasing and invoicing. Do you want the public to see and search through the equipment on the web? Nebraska's web-based database has this built-in; those built with Filemaker Pro can (with programming) have their information accessible through the web.
Tools: What database software is already available to you (Microsoft Access, Filemaker Pro)? If you need access from several sites, do you already have your own web server?
We have installed our new database, and are very happy to be moving to a more efficient way of doing things (see the wiki for the one we chose). My choice reflects my skills and experience with databases, and will not be the right one for everyone. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me: FTchang@advopps.org.
Fred Tchang, ATP, is the Director of Assistive Technology Services at Advancing Opportunities, a non-profit serving people of all disabilities throughout the state of New Jersey.
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