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About the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)

NIDILRR's Unique Role

Across NIDILRR’s agenda, the central focus is on the whole person with a disability, whose ability to function and quality of life are dependent on the complex interactions among personal, societal, and environmental factors. (p.20)

NIDILRR plays a unique role in that its target population includes all disability types and all age groups.While other federal research entities fund prevention, cure, and acute rehabilitation research, NIDILRR also invests in rehabilitation research that is tied more closely to longer-term outcomes, such as independence, community participation, and employment (p.20)

NIDILRR's Mission

NIDILRR's mission is to:

  • Generate new knowledge and promote its effective use to improve the abilities of people with disabilities to perform activities of their choice in the community, and also to
  • Expand society's capacity to provide full opportunities and accommodations for its citizens with disabilities.

NIDILRR's History

As a result of the Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities amendments of 1978 (P.L. 95-602), which amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the National Institute on Handicapped Research (NIHR) was created.

NIHR was charged with the prime responsibility of providing the required knowledge for defining needs, and of identifying the means for improving services to individuals with disabilities. NIHR was the result of intense effort by voluntary agencies of and for persons with disabilities, Congress, and the administration of the time.

According to Leclair (1979), the original goal of NIHR was to focus in one agency a strong commitment to carry on a major program of research on all aspects of disability and the attendant socio-economic implications of the problems encountered by individuals with disabilities (p. 1).

The scope of activities prescribed for NIHR was all encompassing and cut across practically every facet of rehabilitation and habilitation research activities imaginable, with no limitations in terms of type of disability, age, or intended goals. (Leclair, 1979; p.1). Finally NIHR was created, not to duplicate services but rather to ensure that NIHR could proceed with "full authority if research programs were found inadequate or non-existent in a specific area of concern (Leclair, 1979; p. 1).

NIHR retained most of the programs originally conducted by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) such as the Rehabilitation Engineering Centers (RECs), the Research and Training Centers (RTC), and the array of discrete psycho-social, vocational, and medical project grants that RSA and its predecessors had been conducting, in one form or other, since 1935.

Some new initiatives and changes that NIHR spear-headed included but were not limited to:

  • Research that improved the rehabilitation and habilitation of children with disabilities as well as older Americans with disabilities;

  • Conduct of model research and training centers on innovative programs and techniques for evaluating, training, and placing individuals with disabilities in productive work.

  • Conduct of a research program to determine ways to train and retain rehabilitation professionals to serve in rural areas

  • Development and implementation of a public education program, based on research results, to inform the public about the needs, concerns and problems of individuals with disabilities including information relating to family care, self-care, and preventative aspects of rehabilitation and habilitation

  • Establishment of a program to improve the development, evaluation, production, and distribution of technological systems and devices that could improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities

  • Development, in conjunction with other federal agencies, of statistical reports on the employment, health, income, and other demographic characteristics of individuals with disabilities

  • and
  • The conduct of projects by private profit-making organizations, non-profit public entities as well with universities

Adapted from Leclair, R. R. (1979). National Institute on Handicapped Research (NIHR): A giant step for expanded rehabilitation research. Bulletin of Prosthetics Research, 10(32), 1-6.

In 1986, again as a result of amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, NIHR would become known as the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Since its initial creation as NIHR in 1978, and its name change and expansion to NIDRR in 1986, NIDRR's basic purpose and reason for being has not changed much. Expressed using updated terminology to reflect current times, NIDRR's mission still remains to generate new knowledge and to promote its effective use to improve the abilities of people with disabilities to perform activities of their choice in the community. NIDRR still sponsors research and development in broad outcome domains of health and function, employment, and participation and community living. And ultimately NIDRR still remains committed to expanding society's capacity to provide full opportunities and accommodations for its citizens with disabilities

And now, with the passage of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act, NIDRR has a new home in the Administration for Community Living within the Department of Human Services as well as a new name--the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

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Last Modified: 04/08/2015