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OSERS: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About NIDRR

  1. What is NIDRR's mission?
  2. How is NIDRR's research used to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities?
  3. What are NIDRR's core areas of research?
  4. How does NIDRR conduct its research?
  5. What types of Programs does NIDRR fund?
  6. Where can I find a list of current research projects funded by NIDRR?
  7. Does NIDRR provide direct services to people with disabilities?
  8. What is the purpose of NIDRR's Long-Range Plan?
  9. How was the Long-Range Plan developed?
  10. How does the Long-Range Plan meet the needs of the rehabilitation community?
  11. How does NIDRR support the ADA?
  12. What is the definition of disability?
  13. What is "the new paradigm of disability"?
  14. What does the term "emerging universe" mean?
  15. What is Assistive Technology?
  16. What is Universal Design?
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  1. What is NIDRR's mission?

    The mission of OSERS' National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is to generate, disseminate and promote knowledge that will improve the lives of persons with disabilities in their communities. NIDRR conducts comprehensive and coordinated programs of research and related activities to assist in the achievement of the full inclusion, social integration, employment, and independent living of people with disabilities.

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  2. How is NIDRR's research used to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities?

    Since Congress created NIDRR in 1978, rehabilitation researchers have achieved many significant outcomes that benefit both individuals and society. For example, at the individual level, the concerted efforts of U.S. researchers, most of whom received NIDRR support, have decreased medical complications for individuals with spinal cord injuries, thus, significantly increasing their life expectancy. In addition, rehabilitation engineering research has led to the use of new materials for wheelchairs and orthotic and prosthetic devices, making this essential equipment more comfortable, functional, and attractive.

    At the environmental-societal level, technology has greatly enhanced accommodations for people with all types of disabilities. Research has led to new applications of the principles of universal design to the built environment, information technology, telecommunications, transportation, and mass-market consumer products. These advances, which allow more people with disabilities to access buildings, telecommunications devices, and computer technology, illustrate a significant change in the disability paradigm — a change that expands the focus of disability to include environmental factors, as well as individual factors.

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  3. What are NIDRR's core areas of research?

    NIDRR's research focus includes such areas as: employment outcomes, health and function, technology for access and function, independent living and community integration, associated disability research areas, knowledge dissemination and utilization, and capacity building for rehabilitation and international activities. For a detailed description of these areas, consult the Long-Range Plan.

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  4. How does NIDRR conduct its research?

    NIDRR's research is conducted via a network of individual research projects and centers of excellence throughout the country. Most NIDRR grantees are universities or providers of rehabilitation or related services.

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  5. What types of Programs does NIDRR fund?

    NIDRR's largest funding programs are the Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) and Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs). NIDRR also makes awards for information dissemination and utilization centers and projects, field initiated projects, research and development projects, advanced research training projects, Mary E. Switzer fellowships, small business innovative research, and model systems of care. NIDRR administers the State Technology Assistance Projects and Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers.

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  6. Where can I find a list of current research projects being funded by NIDRR?

    NIDRR's Program Directory lists all projects currently funded by NIDRR.

    Search NIDRR's Program Directory:

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  7. Does NIDRR provide direct services to people with disabilities?

    No. NIDRR does not have a program of direct rehabilitation services to individuals. As our name indicates, research is our focus. NIDRR is a Federal agency under the Department of Education that conducts comprehensive and coordinated programs of research and related activities to assist in the achievement of the full inclusion, social integration, employment, and independent living of people with disabilities. NIDRR's research is conducted through a network of individual research projects and centers of excellence. Most NIDRR grantees are universities or providers of rehabilitation or related services.

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  8. What is the purpose of NIDRR's Long-Range Plan?

    The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research's (NIDRR) Long-Range Plan presents a five-year agenda to advance the vital work being done in applied rehabilitation research. This Long-Range Plan fulfills NIDRR's obligation under the Rehabilitation Act to provide a plan that identifies research needs and sets research priorities for the disability field.

    NIDRR's plan serves the following purposes:

    • To set broad general directions that will guide NIDRR's policies and the use of resources in the field of disability
    • To establish objectives for research and dissemination that will improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and from which annual research priorities can be formulated
    • To describe a system for operationalizing the plan in terms of annual priorities, evaluation of the implementation of the plan, and updates of the plan as necessary
    • To direct new emphasis to the management and administration of the research endeavor

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  9. How was the Long-Range Plan developed?

    The Long-Range Plan was developed with the guidance of a distinguished group of NIDRR constituents — individuals with disabilities and their family members and advocates, service providers, researchers, educators, administrators, and policy makers. The plan draws upon public hearings and planning activities conducted by NIDRR, as well as papers prepared specifically for the plan by several authors.

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  10. How does the Long-Range Plan meet the needs of the rehabilitation community?

    The Plan addresses a range of diverse objectives intended to meet the following needs of the rehabilitation community:

    • the needs of individuals with disabilities for knowledge and information that will enable them to achieve their aspirations for self-direction, independence, inclusion, and functional competence
    • the needs of rehabilitation service providers for information on new techniques and technologies that will enable them to assist in the rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities
    • the needs of researchers to advance the capabilities of science as well as the body of scientific knowledge
    • the needs of society and its leadership for strategies that will facilitate the potential contributors of all citizens
    • the need to transfer findings from basic and applied research

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  11. How does NIDRR support the ADA?

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opens more opportunities for persons with disabilities. To assist covered parties with the understanding and compliance of the ADA, NIDRR has funded 10 regional centers to provide information, training, and technical assistance to employers, people with disabilities, and other entities with responsibilities under the ADA. Each Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) provides comprehensive resources on ADA issues in employment, public services, public accommodations, and communications.

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  12. What is the definition of disability?

    There are over 40 different definitions of disability in United States federal law but NIDRR is guided by the definition of disability in the ADA. The ADA definition sets out the following criteria:

    • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities
    • a record of such an impairment
    • being regarded as having such an impairment.

    The definition lends itself to activity measures and therefore to measures of political activity.

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  13. What is "the new paradigm of disability?"

    The new paradigm maintains that disability is the result of an interaction between characteristics of the individual and those of the natural, built, communications (IT), cultural, and social environments. Personal characteristics, as well as environmental ones, may be either enabling or disabling. The relative degree of this situation fluctuates, depending on condition, time, and setting. This view of disability suggests that one of the most effective ways to address particular disabilities may be through the removal of barriers and the provision of accommodation or assistive technology.

    As new causes of disabilities emerge, the new paradigm of disability clearly provides a progressive approach to successfully addressing people with disabilities. These new issues have implications not only for disability research and services, but also for public health and prevention activities.

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  14. What does the term "emerging universe" mean?

    The emerging universe is identified with new disabling conditions; new causes for impairments; differential distribution within the population; increased frequency of some impairments, including those associated with aging; and new consequences of disability, particularly related to social-environmental factors, life-span issues, and projected demands for services and supports. NIDRR has begun to focus on an emerging universe of disability, in which the conditions associated with disability, their distribution in the population, and their causes and consequences are substantially different from those in traditional disability populations.

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  15. What is Assistive Technology?

    Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2)).

    Examples of assistive technology are:

    • Screen readers or large screen monitors for individuals with visual impairments
    • Hearing aids and other amplification devices for individuals with hearing loss
    • Devices that operate lamps, radios, and other appliances through a remote control switching device, that might be attached to a person's wheelchair
    • Toilets and showers equipped with grab bars for persons who may fall easily or require supports

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  16. What is Universal Design?

    Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

    The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.

    For more information on universal design, visit The Center for Universal Design, School of Design, a NIDRR funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design and the Built Environment.

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Last Modified: 05/13/2008