29th Annual RESNA Conference Proceedings

Making a Large Database Available for Assistive Technology Research

Sally Fennema-Jansen, Ph.D., Mary Binion, M.S., Dave Edyburn, Ph. D., Roger O. Smith, Ph.D.


The Assistive Technology Outcomes Measurement System Project has explored the possibility of using large databases as a source of information on assistive technology outcomes. Based on three research projects involving the analysis of data from large databases, the value as well as the challenge of using large datasets has been confirmed. Efforts are underway to share the data collected as a part of the Ohio Assistive Technology Infusion Project (ATIP) with other researchers as a means of contributing to the expansion of research in the field of assistive technology. The Ohio ATIP database contains a wealth of information including details of the assessment of assistive technology needs in the school setting, documentation of Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goals, progress on goals that is attributed to the use of assistive technology, and the relative contribution of a variety of interventions toward progress on goals.


database, outcomes, school system, assistive technology


The Assistive Technology Outcomes Measurement System Project (ATOMS Project), funded in part by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, has conducted research using three different large databases to examine factors relevant to assistive technology outcomes. Schwanke and Smith (1, 2) examined the database of the state vocational rehabilitation system, which reports data in a federally mandate format called the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Case Service Report (referred to as the RSA-911). Moser (3, 4) analyzed data reported by the National Center for Health Statistics in their 1994 and 1995 Phase II Disability Followback Survey-Child Questionnaire relative to assistive technology acquisition and use by children. Fennema-Jansen (5, 6) examined the data on outcomes collected as a part of the Ohio Assistive Technology Infusion Project (ATIP). Based on the information learned as a part of the analysis of large databases completed thus far, the need to continue the analysis of large databases is confirmed. This paper will focus on the value and process of moving the Ohio ATIP database into the public domain such that any interested researcher could utilize the data to contribute to the needed body of assistive technology research.

The Ohio Department of Education received a grant from the United States Department of Education School Renovation, IDEA and Technology Grants, of which $9.4 million was used to assist districts in providing assistive technology devices for students with disabilities. The Ohio ATIP was developed to distribute the technology and to measure the outcomes of the assistive technology for the individual students. The data collection tools included ATIP Application, the AT District Profile, the Student Performance Profile - Pre, and the Student Performance Profile - Post. Nearly all of the data was collected online, and the data collected on each student comprises the Ohio ATIP database.


The Ohio ATIP database contains a wealth of information relative to the procurement, use and outcomes of assistive technology devices in the school setting. The database contains information from 3479 approved applications, 2836 Student Performance Profile -Pre, and 1760 Student Performance Profile - Posts. The information included in the ATIP Application includes the results of the typical assistive technology assessment process, and aligns with the student's IEP. Information contributed by the application includes the student's present level of performance, a statement of critical need, past and current accommodations, possible solutions, trial data, solutions selected, goals for the use of the device, and an implementation plan. The AT District Profile includes the results of a self-assessment of best practices for providing AT services in the schools, as well as an inventory of equipment available in the school district. The Performance Profile - Pre contains information regarding the areas of need the AT addresses, the rate of progress for the areas of need, the contribution that each of ten intervention toward progress in the area of need, the IEP goals addressed using the technology, and the student's current ability on each goal. The Student Performance Profile - Post collected the same information, with the addition of information on the frequency and duration of use of the device, AT services provided, and the contribution of assistive technology to participation in the general education setting, including performance on competency testing and graduation. For a more complete description of the variables included in the dataset, a Technical Report on the Ohio ATIP Database is available (5).


Thus far, a number of steps have been taken to prepare the data for use in research. Following the Internal Review Board Protocol, all identifying information for both the student and educational staff was removed, including such things as names, birth dates, addresses, e-mail addresses, school names, and telephone numbers. The data from the four tools, previously contained in two separate databases, was merged into one comprehensive database and the data was checked for quality. The data was coded for analysis and an initial code book was developed. Although this process was adequate to prepare the data for use by the ATOMS Project, additional steps and decisions are required to prepare the data to be shared with other researchers.

One of the challenges of making this database public is the need to maintain the anonymity and confidentiality of the students. Because of the wealth of information available on each student, additional steps to those already completed would need to be taken to further protect the students' identities. Variables need to be transformed to remove the possibility of identifying individuals. For example, reporting age groups rather than actual ages will reduce the likelihood than an individual student will be identified. In addition, categories of devices rather than device names are being developed. Currently, the devices that the students received are identified by name. Without removing this information, it might be possible to identify a known individual student based on the unique device or combination of devices received through the ATIP.

A more comprehensive code book will be required and support and training may be needed in order for people unfamiliar with the dataset to use the data effectively. Decisions need to be made about what portion of the dataset will be shared with researchers. One possibility is that researchers will request the fields that they require in order to conduct a planned research analysis. Researchers then have only the data that they need, rather than the entire dataset.


The field of assistive technology needs research, including studies with large numbers of participants. Because the ATIP dataset provides a rich source of information, many possible research studies could be conducted using the data. Data collection is a challenging aspect of any research study. Given the amount of data that has already been collected, sharing this data with interested fellow researchers would make a helpful contribution to the field of assistive technology research. A variety of research questions could be queried related to the assistive technology devices used, the students' IEP goals, reasons for progress or lack thereof, factors impacting positive outcomes, and progress on goals. Providing this database as a data source has potential to positively impact the field of assistive technology.


  1. Schwanke, T. D., & Smith, R. O. (2004). Technical report-Vocational rehabilitation database analysis: RSA-911 case service report and database linking (1.0). University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Retrieved, from the World Wide Web: http://www.atoms.uwm.edu/archive/technicalreports/tr-rsa911.pdf .
  2. Schwanke, T. D. & Smith, R. O. (2004). Introduction to assistive technology data in the RSA-911 case service report for application to assistive technology outcomes measurement. Proceedings of the RESNA 27 th International Conference on Technology and Disability: Research, Design, Practice and Policy.
  3. Moser, C. S. (2004). The 1994 and 1995 NHIS Phase II Disability Followback Survey-Child Questionnaire: A critical analysis of the data relating to AT and its implications for future AT survey research. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
  4. Moser, C. S. (2004). Technical report-Data base analysis: 1994 and 1995 NHIS Phase II Disability Followback Survey, Child Questionnaire (1.0). University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Retrieved, from the World Wide Web: http://www.atoms.uwm.edu/archive/technicalreports/tr-nhisd.pdf .
  5. Fennema-Jansen, S. A. (2004). Technical report-The assistive technology infusion project (ATIP) database (1.0). Retrieved, from the World Wide Web: http://www.atoms.uwm.edu/activities/ .
  6. Fennema-Jansen, S. A. (2005). An Analysis of Assistive Technology Outcomes in Ohio Schools: Special Education Students' Access to and Participation in General Education and Isolating the Contribution of Assistive Technology. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


This project is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education National Institute on Disability Related Research (NIDRR) under Grant # H133A010403 and the U.S. Department of Education School Renovation, IDEA, and Technology Grant # 84.352A. The opinions herein are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education.

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