[Federal Register: October 30, 1997 (Volume 62, Number 210)]
[Page 58861-58867]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 58861]]


Part VI

Department of Education


National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers; Proposed Funding 
Priorities for Fiscal Years 98-99; Notices

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National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers; Proposed Funding 
Priorities for Fiscal Years 1998-99

AGENCY: Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice of Proposed Funding Priorities for Fiscal Years 1998-
1999 for Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers.


SUMMARY: The Secretary proposes funding priorities for four 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) under the National 
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) for fiscal 
years 1998-1999. The Secretary takes this action to focus research 
attention on areas of national need. These priorities are intended to 
improve rehabilitation services and outcomes for individuals with 

DATES: Comments must be received on or before December 1, 1997.

ADDRESSES: All comments concerning these proposed priorities should be 
addressed to Donna Nangle, U.S. Department of Education, 600 Maryland 
Avenue, S.W., room 3418, Switzer Building, Washington, D.C. 20202-2645. 
Comments may also be sent through the Internet: comment@ed.gov
    You must include the term ``Engineering Research Centers'' in the 
electronic message.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle. Telephone: (202) 205-
5880. Individuals who use a telecommunications device for the deaf 
(TDD) may call the TDD number at (202) 205-2742. Internet: 
    Individuals with disabilities may obtain this document in an 
alternate format (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to the contact person listed in the preceding 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This notice contains proposed priorities 
under the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers 
program for RERCs related to information technology access, 
communication enhancement, ergonomic solutions for employment, and 
hearing enhancement.
    The authority for RERCs is contained in section 204(b)(3) of the 
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 762(b)(3)). Under 
this program the Secretary makes awards to public and private agencies 
and organizations, including institutions of higher education, Indian 
tribes, and tribal organizations, to conduct research, demonstration, 
and training activities regarding rehabilitation technology in order to 
enhance opportunities for meeting the needs of, and addressing the 
barriers confronted by, individuals with disabilities in all aspects of 
their lives. An RERC must be operated by or in collaboration with an 
institution of higher education or a nonprofit organization.
    These proposed priorities support the National Education Goal that 
calls for every adult American to possess the skills necessary to 
compete in a global economy.
    The authority for the Secretary to establish research priorities by 
reserving funds to support particular research activities is contained 
in sections 202(g) and 204 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as 
amended (29 U.S.C. 761a(g) and 762).
    The Secretary will announce the final priorities in a notice in the 
Federal Register. The final priorities will be determined by responses 
to this notice, available funds, and other considerations of the 
Department. Funding of a particular project depends on the final 
priority, the availability of funds, and the quality of the 
applications received. The publication of these proposed priorities 
does not preclude the Secretary from proposing additional priorities, 
nor does it limit the Secretary to funding only these priorities, 
subject to meeting applicable rulemaking requirements.

    Note: This notice of proposed priorities does not solicit 
applications. A notice inviting applications under this competition 
will be published in the Federal Register concurrent with or 
following the notice of final priorities.

Description of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center 

    RERCs carry out research or demonstration activities by:
    (a) Developing and disseminating innovative methods of applying 
advanced technology, scientific achievement, and psychological and 
social knowledge to (1) solve rehabilitation problems and remove 
environmental barriers, and (2) study new or emerging technologies, 
products, or environments;
    (b) Demonstrating and disseminating (1) innovative models for the 
delivery of cost-effective rehabilitation technology services to rural 
and urban areas, and (2) other scientific research to assist in meeting 
the employment and independent living needs of individuals with severe 
disabilities; or
    (c) Facilitating service delivery systems change through (1) the 
development, evaluation, and dissemination of consumer-responsive and 
individual and family centered innovative models for the delivery to 
both rural and urban areas of innovative cost-effective rehabilitation 
technology services, and (2) other scientific research to assist in 
meeting the employment and independent needs of individuals with severe 
    Each RERC must provide training opportunities to individuals, 
including individuals with disabilities, to become researchers of 
rehabilitation technology and practitioners of rehabilitation 
technology in conjunction with institutions of higher education and 
nonprofit organizations.


    The Secretary proposes that the following requirements apply to 
these RERCs pursuant to these absolute priorities unless noted 
    The RERC must have the capability to design, build, and test 
prototype devices and assist in the transfer of successful solutions to 
the marketplace. The RERC must evaluate the efficacy and safety of its 
new products, instrumentation, or assistive devices.
    The RERC must provide graduate-level research training to build 
capacity for engineering research in the rehabilitation field and to 
provide training in the applications of new technology to service 
providers and to individuals with disabilities and their families.
    The RERC must involve individuals with disabilities and, if 
appropriate, their family members in planning and implementing the 
research, development, and training programs, in interpreting and 
disseminating the research findings, and in evaluating the Center.
    The RERC must share information and data, and, as appropriate, 
collaborate on research and training with other NIDRR-supported 
grantees including, but not limited to, the Americans with Disabilities 
Act (ADA) Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers, other 
related RERCs and RRTCs, and grantees under the Technology-Related 
Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act.
    The RERC must conduct a state-of-the-science conference in the 
third year of the grant and publish a comprehensive report on the final 
outcomes of the conference in the fourth year of the grant.
    The RERC must develop and implement a utilization plan for ensuring 
that all new and improved technologies developed by the RERC are

[[Page 58863]]

successfully transferred to the marketplace.
    The RERC must develop and implement in consultation with the NIDRR-
supported National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research 
a plan to disseminate the RERC's research results to disability 
organizations, persons with disabilities, businesses, manufacturers, 
professional journals, and other appropriate parties.


    Under 34 CFR 75.105(c)(3) the Secretary proposes to give an 
absolute preference to applications that meet the following priorities. 
The Secretary proposes to fund under this competition only applications 
that meet one of these absolute priorities.

Proposed Priority 1: Information Technology Access

    High speed computers, high speed modems, sophisticated 
telecommunication networks, cable networks, intranets, the Internet, 
the World Wide Web (www), and satellites constitute an unparalled 
global information network. However, the proliferation of information 
technology has also created problems of accessibility for persons with 
disabilities (Paciello, M., People with Disabilities Can't Access the 
Web, Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation, 1997). Persons with disabilities 
will be significantly disadvantaged if this new generation of 
information technology is inaccessible. Promoting accessibility to this 
dynamic field is a highly technical and complicated task that will 
place unique demands on an RERC to serve as a resource to a wide range 
of industry and government officials, as well as persons with 
    The Internet is expanding at a phenomenal rate. There were 1,000 
Internet host computers worldwide in 1980. That number increased to 
200,000 in 1996 and is expected to reach 12 million by the year 2000. 
The number of Internet users has virtually doubled every year over the 
past three years from an estimated 16 million in 1995 to 68 million in 
1997 (Computer Industry Forecasts, Third Quarter, 1997). Emerging 
nomadic technologies will enable individuals to access information 
systems from virtually anywhere, at anytime, and in entirely visual, 
audio, or mixed modes.
    The Internet and World Wide Web are also undergoing dramatic 
structural changes. Internet 2 is a consortium of academic institutions 
planning to interconnect its members with a new high-bandwidth Internet 
that will support advanced applications that are not possible or 
practical on the current Internet (Kennedy, K., Testimony Before the 
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Subcommittee on 
Communications, June 3, 1997). Once developed, the Next Generation 
Internet will interconnect 100 Federal research institutions and their 
research partners with a network capable of operating at speeds 100 to 
1000 times faster than today's Internet (Lane, N., Testimony Before the 
Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Subcommittee on 
Communications, June 3, 1997). In spring of 1997, the International 
World Wide Web Consortium held special workshops at their Sixth 
International World Wide Web Conference that focused on developing 
strategies for designing accessibility into the Web core environment.
    New generations of computer and information technologies become 
available long before anyone has fully grasped the implications of the 
previous generation (Kelly, H., Testimony Before the Senate Commerce, 
Science, and Transportation Committee; Subcommittee on Communications, 
June 3, 1997). Product cycles and lifetimes are measured in months, not 
years. There are many small high technology firms that remain virtually 
unknown until they announce their product. These firms may have little, 
or no experience with design accessibility. In addition, the industry 
is highly competitive, and companies may not be willing to incorporate 
accessible design features into their products if they believe it 
involves additional development time and expense.
    Designing accessible features into new information technologies 
early in the design process provides persons with disabilities with 
immediate access and is more cost effective than retrofitting. 
Increasingly, functions are integrated onto single chips and 
motherboards, obviating the need for third party accessories such as 
sound cards or voice input devices, and making changes or modifications 
to these built-in features difficult or impossible. The earlier 
accessibility occurs in the design process for new products, the easier 
it is to incorporate accessibility features.
    Universal design is a process whereby environments and products are 
designed with built-in flexibility so they are usable by all people, 
regardless of age and ability, at no additional cost to the user. While 
advances in computers and information technologies create new 
opportunities for some individuals, they create barriers for others. 
Information presented in graphical modes (i.e., images, photographs, 
icons) pose problems for people who are blind unless there are built-in 
``hooks'' that can be identified by the user's screen reader. 
Conversely, audio cues (beeps) do not convey information to individuals 
who are deaf or hard of hearing. The proliferation of public access 
terminals creates unique accessibility challenges. Access to these 
terminals requires the use of keyboards, touch screens, telephone 
handsets, and smart cards and will require the development of flexible, 
multi-modal interface techniques that can work across all disabilities.
    The ability to access computer-based information technologies is 
quickly becoming a prerequisite for successful employment. Companies 
are increasingly using internal networks, commonly referred to as 
intranets, to share information within the company. This presents 
unique problems for individuals with disabilities if the company uses 
proprietary software and databases that are specifically designed for 
their company and do not follow standard protocols. In those cases, the 
information may be inaccessible to individuals who use assistive 
devices (e.g., screen readers) to access their computers.
    There are emerging information and communications policy issues 
that will have an enormous impact on technology development. Section 
508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the 
Telecommunications Act of 1996 require the development of accessibility 
standards and guidelines that direct government agencies, Federal 
customers and contractors, manufacturers, and developers to address 
accessibility for new and existing products.
    Although computer and information technologies are expanding at 
phenomenal rates, it is also important to recognize that there are many 
individuals with disabilities who have problems accessing the current 
generation of technologies (e.g., integrating assistive devices with 
existing computer workstations). Continued support and guidance for 
these individuals are necessary to promote access to the computers and 
information systems they currently use.

Proposed Priority 1

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RERC on information 
technology access for the purposes of developing technological 
solutions and promoting access for individuals with disabilities to 
current and emerging information technologies and technology 

[[Page 58864]]

including hardware, software, networks, nomadic technologies, the 
Internet and the World Wide Web. The RERC must:
    (a) Develop and evaluate technological solutions in collaboration 
with industry to promote accessibility and universal design at the 
outset of the development of information technologies including 
software, hardware, intranets, and nomadic technologies;
    (b) Develop through research and in collaboration with industry 
flexible, multi-modal interface techniques for computer and information 
technologies that provide universal access for all individuals with 
    (c) Develop and disseminate strategies for integrating current 
accessibility features into newer generations of computer and 
information systems;
    (d) Develop through research and in collaboration with Federal 
agencies, universities and industry the technologies necessary to 
promote access to current and emerging generations of the Internet and 
the World Wide Web for persons with disabilities;
    (e) Develop and evaluate technologies and strategies to promote 
universal access to intranet systems;
    (f) Provide technical assistance to public and private 
organizations responsible for developing policies, guidelines and 
standards that affect the accessibility of information technology 
products and systems that are developed, manufactured, and implemented; 
    (g) Provide technical assistance and guidance to individuals with 
disabilities and employers on accessibility problems affecting current 
computer and information systems.
    In carrying out the purposes of the priority, the RERC shall 
coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with the NIDRR-
funded RERC on Telecommunications.

Proposed Priority 2: Communication Enhancement

    Speech and language disorders affect the way people talk and 
understand language, range from mild to significant, and may be 
developmental or acquired. According to the American Speech-Language 
and Hearing Association (ASHA), approximately 14 million individuals 
may be described as having a speech/language disorder (Bello, J., 
Communication Facts, ASHA Research Division, 1994). Two million of 
those individuals experience significant communication disorders and 
need access to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) 
(Beukelman, D., Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Vol. 11, 
June, 1995). For the purpose of this priority, augmentative and 
alternative communication refers to all forms of communication that 
enhance or supplement comprehension, speech, and writing, including 
electronic devices and communication boards.
    NIDRR is proposing to define the target population for this RERC as 
those persons with significant communication disorders and is 
particularly interested in receiving public comments on how the field 
defines significant communication disorders.
    Historically, augmentative and alternative communication has been 
associated with specific technologies that provide individuals who have 
significant communication disorders with some type of alternative 
output. Research documenting successful AAC use has been confined 
primarily to adolescents and adults with reasonably intact cognitive 
capabilities and moderate to significant motor impairment (Shane, H., 
Presentation at ASHA Annual Convention, Seattle, 1995). This limited 
approach does not address the needs of all persons with significant 
communication disorders such as persons with mental retardation, 
aphasia, traumatic brain injury, and autism. A more holistic approach 
to communication enhancement strategies for persons with significant 
communication disorders must take into account the complexities of 
human language and incorporate those factors as unique physical, 
cognitive, and sensory manifestations and individualized learning 
    There is a need for new and improved AAC technologies that take the 
more holistic approach to AAC intervention by addressing input 
technologies, language processing, and output strategies for a wide 
range of disabilities. These new or improved technologies could address 
an array of issues, including, but not limited to: speed enhancement 
and rate of communication that enable the user to operate in or close 
to real-time; cosmesis and aesthetics of devices; ergonomic and human 
factors relationships to interventions and technologies for significant 
communication disorders; quality, diversity, and naturalness of speech 
output as it relates to a user's actual voice; human and machine 
interface and multiple control options; using technology to reduce the 
burden on users with physical disabilities; reliability, portability, 
and cost; and developing and disseminating measurable outcomes of 
    Studies of the brain and language acquisition emphasize the 
importance of addressing the language needs of toddlers and school aged 
children who use or could use AAC (Blackstone, S., Augmentative 
Communication News, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1997). Often children and others 
with significant communication disorders encounter difficulty in 
processing and comprehending spoken language. In order to address the 
needs of these children and adults with significant communication 
disorders, systems to enhance communication must support comprehension 
as well as expression.
    Reading and writing are interrelated skills that emerge as part of 
an interactive language and communication process that begins early in 
life and continues for approximately 6 years. This process is referred 
to as emergent literacy. Users of AAC in contrast to those who do not 
use AAC are often found to be in a phase of emergent literacy for many 
more years (Koppenhaver, D., et. al., Technology and Disability, Vol 
2., No. 3, 1993). Emergent literacy and AAC use are interrelated 
processes. This relationship has an impact on the way in that the next 
generation of technology for communication enhancement should be 
studied and developed. Research issues related to emergent literacy of 
AAC users include, but are not limited to: the effects of AAC use on 
reading and writing development; differences in written language 
development between AAC users and non-users; the effects of early AAC 
use on emergent literacy; and the impact of different types of 
technologies on better understanding and use of written language in AAC 
    Aging presents a unique challenge to AAC researchers because 
technologies must address linguistic, speech, and sensory deterioration 
as well as tolerance for technology. As persons age, the need for 
communication enhancement technology increases, yet, according to data 
reported by the National Health Interview Survey in 1990 only six-
tenths of one percent of individuals aged 65 or older were using AAC 
technology. Elderly persons with acquired communication disorders 
encounter a lack of awareness on the part of service providers and an 
absence of communication services in general.
    To date there has been only minimal attention to the job options 
available for persons with disabilities who use AAC. Anecdotal reports 
suggest that individuals with severe communication disorders are 
frequently considered unemployable. The high rate of unemployment 
results from a number of

[[Page 58865]]

factors including, but not limited to: lack of skills, inadequate job 
preparation; attitudinal barriers; transportation barriers; 
architectural and accommodation barriers; and limitations in the AAC 
technology (Light, J., et. al., AAC, Vol. 12, 1996). Issues related to 
unemployment for users of AAC devices include, but are not limited to, 
compatibility with other technology on the worksite and the ability of 
the AAC user to transition easily from one task to another.
    There are over 40 companies in the United States developing, 
manufacturing and distributing AAC devices. The next generation of 
development must challenge conventional AAC approaches and improve the 
way in that new technologies incorporate and blend principles of 
communication theories and engineering. Communicative competence 
ensures that individuals are able to attain communication goals that 
include expressing needs and wants, developing social skills and 
routines, and exchanging information (Light, J., AAC, Vol. 13, 1997). 
Communication competence is built over time through improved science, 
engineering, and the modification of environments, parameters, 
opportunities and instruction as well as improving communication tools.

Proposed Priority 2

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RERC on communication 
enhancement to improve AAC technologies that can further the 
development of communication, language, natural speech, discourse 
skills, and literacy of persons with significant communication 
disorders. The RERC must:
    (a) Develop and evaluate in collaboration with industry improved 
AAC technologies for individuals with significant communication 
    (b) Develop and evaluate strategies that promote literacy 
proficiency for AAC users;
    (c) Develop and evaluate communication enhancement strategies and 
AAC technologies that factor in the speech, linguistic and multiple 
sensory needs of the elderly;
    (d) Investigate and disseminate strategies to build the capacity of 
service providers and increase their involvement with elderly persons 
with significant communication disorders who use or could use AAC; and
    (e) Identify barriers that negatively affect the employment status 
of individuals with significant communication disorders who use, or 
could use, AAC and develop and evaluate approaches to improve their 
employment status.
    In carrying out the purposes of the priority, the RERC must:
    * Coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with
the NIDRR-funded RERC on Hearing Enhancement;
    * Address the needs of individuals of all ages with
significant communication disorders including, but not limited to, 
toddlers and the elderly; and
    * Address the needs of persons with developmental
disabilities and acquired disabilities including but not limited to 
mental retardation, aphasia, traumatic brain injury, and autism.

Proposed Priority 3: Ergonomic Solutions for Employment

    The familiar components of the work environment (i.e., tools, 
machines, and equipment) often are designed without adequate 
consideration for the people who must use them. Similarly, work tasks 
may require capabilities that individuals do not have or cannot sustain 
over long periods of time without injury. Improperly designed 
workplaces can lead to fatigue, discomfort, and injury that result in 
reduced productivity and increased costs for employers. These same work 
environment components may present additional physical barriers to 
persons with disabilities and negatively impact their employment 
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 62 percent of all 
workplace injuries in 1995 resulted from trauma caused by repetitive 
stress injuries (RSI) (commonly referred to as cumulative trauma 
disorders or CTDs)--up from 15 percent in the early 1980s. The National 
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that 
annual U.S. medical costs from repetitive stress injuries total $13 
billion (NIOSH, ``Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors,'' 
July, 1997), and the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health 
Administration (OSHA) has estimated overall costs at nearly $100 
billion a year when one considers lost work time, lost productivity, 
and retraining costs.
    Ergonomics is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the 
performance and safety of individuals at work and how they cope with 
the work environment, interact with machines, and, in general, 
negotiate their work surroundings (Scheer, S. and Mital, A., 
``Ergonomics,'' Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Volume 
78, pg. 36, March, 1997). Ergonomic principles are based on a 
combination of science, engineering, and biomechanics (the study of the 
body as a system operating under two sets of laws: Newtonian mechanics 
and the biological laws of life) and are used to promote the proper 
design of products, workplaces, and equipment (Kroemer, K.H.E., et. 
al., Ergonomics: How to Design for Ease & Efficiency, Prentice Hall, 
N.J., pgs. 6-7, 1994). When these principles are applied correctly, the 
incidence and severity of musculoskeletal disorders decrease (Stobbe, 
T.J., ``Occupational Ergonomics and Injury Prevention,'' Occupational 
Medicine, pgs. 531-543, July, 1996) thereby reducing the likelihood of 
work related injuries and employer costs.
    Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) are a class of musculoskeletal 
disorders involving nerves, tendons, muscles and supporting bony 
structures (i.e., back, neck, shoulders, and hands). They represent a 
wide range of disorders that can differ in severity from mild periodic 
conditions to those that are severe, chronic and debilitating. Since 
the early 1980s, there has been a dramatic increase in CTDs. OSHA 
attributes much of this increase to changes in production processes and 
technologies, resulting in more specialized tasks with increased 
repetitions and higher assembly line speeds. Two of the most frequently 
occurring, occupationally induced CTDs are carpal tunnel syndrome and 
low back pain.
    Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by pressure on the 
median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel of the wrist; it 
results in the gradual onset of numbness and tingling in one's thumb 
and the first two and a half fingers of the hand.
    If allowed to continue, carpal tunnel syndrome may cause pain, 
muscle atrophy at the base of the thumb, and clumsiness (Phalen, G.S., 
``The Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome: Seventeen Year's Experience in diagnosis 
and Treatment of Six-Hundred Fifty-Four Hands,'' The Journal of Bone 
and Joint Surgery, pgs. 211-228, 1996). Carpal tunnel syndrome is 
recognized as a disabling condition of the hand caused by excessive or 
repetitive movements, undesirable hand positions, or exertions that 
impose prolonged loads on the affected tissues (Huenting, H., et. al., 
``Constrained Postures in Accounting Machine Operations,'' Applied 
Ergonomic, Volume 11, pgs.145-149, 1980).
    Improper working posture is a major factor in the development of 
lower back pain. The strain on one's body may be caused by external 
loads (e.g., when one lifts, lowers, pulls, pushes, carries, holds onto 
heavy objects or any combination of these factors) or by simply moving 
one's own body or by

[[Page 58866]]

maintaining postural support using muscle tension alone. In addition to 
the loss in function and pain, the direct and indirect costs associated 
with lower back injuries are significant. There is a need for reliable 
and validated measurement tools to measure mechanical strains within 
the body and to incorporate the various findings into models of strains 
and capabilities (Kroemer, K.H.E., op. cit., pgs. 473-475).
    The ability to perform physical work depends greatly upon a number 
of variables including an individual's age, size, strength, overall 
health and fitness, training, motivation, and one's physical dexterity. 
A common approach to matching an individual's work capacity with 
specific job tasks is to assess the individual's overall energy 
capacity by measuring heart rate and oxygen consumption while on a 
treadmill or bicycle ergometer and then comparing that information with 
the amount of energy it takes for a ``normal'' person to do the 
specific job tasks (Kroemer, K.H.E, op. cit., pgs. 118-131). Improper 
matches can lead to early fatigue, and impact a person's ability to do 
the job tasks safely and efficiently.
    Individuals with disabilities present unique ergonomic challenges 
particularly if they use assistive devices to overcome deficits and 
function independently. The use of ergonomic knowledge in 
rehabilitation engineering is widespread, ranging from wrist splints to 
environmental control systems. Technology for people with significant 
disabilities depends increasingly on the development and implementation 
of sophisticated devices including voice input systems, screen readers, 
and eye tracking systems. However, development alone of those types of 
devices does not ensure success. It is sometimes necessary to 
quantitatively measure one's residual capabilities and energy capacity 
and compare these results with specific job tasks. After selecting the 
appropriate ergonomic solutions, it is necessary to have the individual 
demonstrate the usability of those solutions within the worksite 
environment and make the necessary changes or adaptations to ensure 
proper use and fit. There are testing devices and procedures that have 
been developed to quantitatively measure the residual capabilities of 
impaired persons, such as the Basic Elements of Performance Test and 
the Available Motions Inventory Test (Smith, R.V. and Leslie, J.H., 
Rehabilitation Engineering, CRC Press, pgs. 127-143, 1990). These tests 
measure an individual's ability for specific tasks (i.e., reach, grasp, 
manipulation), but do not measure one's ability to incorporate complex 
assistive devices into the workplace of people with significant 
    Elderly individuals are working longer than ever before and the 
proportion of people with work disability (defined as a limitation in 
work due to chronic illness or impairment) increases with age 
(Disability Statistics Program, ``People with Work Disability in the 
U.S.,'' Disability Statistics Abstract, U.S. Department of Education, 
Volume 4, May, 1992). Older workers face unique ergonomic challenges 
due to other changes that occur naturally as part of the aging process 
(i.e., changes in biomechanical features, respiratory capabilities, 
visual functions, hearing, reaction times, etc). Without proper 
ergonomic design and strategies, older workers could well find 
themselves at an unnecessary disadvantage due to compromised 
productivity and health.

Proposed Priority 3

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RERC on ergonomic solutions 
for employment to develop ergonomic strategies and devices to reduce 
and prevent the outset of cumulative trauma disorders and to assist 
persons with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining appropriate 
employment. The RERC must:
    (a) Investigate the biomechanical factors that lead to cumulative 
trauma disorders including, but not necessarily limited to, carpal 
tunnel syndrome and low back injuries;
    (b) Develop and evaluate worksite ergonomic analysis tools to 
determine the causes of ergonomic stress associated with repetitive 
motions, awkward postures, and excessive energy expenditure;
    (c) Investigate and improve existing ergonomic strategies and 
devices used to prevent cumulative trauma disorders and develop new 
strategies when appropriate;
    (d) Design and develop ergonomic strategies and devices for 
integration of ergonomic solutions for workers with disabilities; and
    (e) Design and develop ergonomic strategies and devices to reduce 
and prevent cumulative trauma disorders among elderly workers.
    In carrying out the purposes of the priority, the RERC shall 
coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with the RRTC on 
Workplace Supports to Improve Employment Outcomes.

Proposed Priority 4: Hearing Enhancement

    Individuals whose hearing is impaired, but who can understand 
conversational speech with, or without, amplification are hard-of-
hearing (HoH). Individuals classified as HoH range in age from infants 
to the elderly. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), using 
the ``Gallaudet Hearing Scale'' that is self-reporting and quantifies 
the amount of interference with hearing in ordinary day-to-day 
situations, estimates that the number of persons who are HoH and who 
might benefit from using a hearing aid ranges from 20 million to 22 
million (``National Health Survey,'' Series 10, No. 188, 1994).
    Developments over the past five years have resulted in significant 
growth in digital hearing aid technology, improved evaluation of 
hearing loss, especially in very young children, improved computer 
assisted fitting of hearing aids, and more cosmetically acceptable 
hearing aids that do not sacrifice important functions for the sake of 
appearance. Modern science and technology continue to offer even 
greater opportunity for improvements in the simplification and 
automation of hearing loss evaluation and in the proper fitting of 
appropriate hearing aids to individual users. Concurrently there have 
been important developments in related areas, such as assistive 
listening devices (ALDs) and in automatic speech recognition (ASR), a 
technology that enables a person to dictate words into a microphone and 
have those words converted into computer-language text. The 1996 
National Strategic Plan of the National Institute on Deafness and Other 
Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reflects a growing realization that new 
technology offers potential relief from the symptoms of tinnitus. New 
developments in ultra-thin circuit boards and chips, flash ROM, better 
power management, and other forms of emerging technology offer 
increasing opportunities to expand features available in the next 
generation of hearing enhancing devices.
    While improving, consistent and early identification of hearing 
loss in small children remains problematic. The diagnostic technology 
needs to be simplified and made available to pediatric and child care 
personnel with minimal training in audiology.
    The proper fitting of hearing aids ensures that tonal quality, 
amplification levels, and environmental noise are controlled to the 
maximum extent

[[Page 58867]]

possible. New developments in sophisticated digital hearing technology 
must be accompanied by new training and fitting procedures to ensure 
that new multi-channel aids deliver maximum performance.
    Tinnitus affects about 17 percent of the general population and 
about 33 percent of the elderly (Jastreboff, P. and Hazell, J., 
``Neurophysiological Approaches to Tinnitus'' British Journal of 
Audiology, 1993). Tinnitus is described as an incessant ringing in the 
ears or other head noise that is heard when there is no external cause 
for that noise. Currently, there is no cure for tinnitus (Goldstein, B. 
& Shulman, A., ``Tinnitus Masking--A Longitudinal Study of Efficacy/
Diagnosis 1977-1994.'' Proceedings of the Fifth International Tinnitus 
Seminar, 1995). Often, tinnitus accompanies hearing loss. However, 
there are cases of severe hearing loss without tinnitus. Tinnitus also 
occurs without evidence of other auditory system diseases or disorders.
    This variation drives the need for better dual channel hearing aid/
tinnitus maskers and single channel tinnitus maskers. Although there 
are currently some devices on the market that combine amplification and 
masking, those efforts have not been widely accepted, possibly because 
recent technical developments in miniaturizing have not been fully 
exploited (Gold, S., et. al., ``Selection and Fitting of Noise 
Generators and Hearing Aids for Tinnitus Patients.'' Proceedings of the 
Fifth International Tinnitus Seminar, 1995).
    In recent years there have been significant advances in assistive 
devices that enhance the ability of individuals to integrate more 
successfully in personal and business arenas. In a survey by one of the 
largest organizations for the HoH, Self-Help for the Hard of Hearing 
(SHHH), it was found that nearly half of its membership used assistive 
listening devices, both personal devices and large room systems 
(Sorkin, D., ``Understanding Our Needs: The SHHH Member Survey Looks at 
Hearing Aids.'' SHHH Journal, Vol. 16, No. 4, 1995). Perhaps the most 
promising new technology for broadening the application of assistive 
devices is ASR. The potential for using speech-to-print mechanisms 
based on ASR offers promising benefits including real-time 
transcription in meetings and automated telephone relay services to HoH 
persons. However, the mechanisms to realize the full potential of those 
benefits for this population remain to be developed.
    There is a need for improvements in the shielding of hearing aid 
components from the emission of extraneous electronic signals. The 
Federal government is working to establish standards to reduce those 
signals from a multitude of devices regulated by the Federal 
Communications Commission (FCC). However, the probability of blanket 
suppression of all sources is low.

Proposed Priority 4

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RERC on hearing enhancement 
to develop new and improve existing technologies for persons who are 
HoH. The RERC must:
    (a) Evaluate current technology available for hearing aids, ALDs, 
tinnitus maskers, and ASR systems and develop improvements for these 
technologies including, but not limited to, improved shielding for 
extraneous electronic signals and new training and fitting procedures 
for new multi-channel aids;
    (b) Develop and evaluate new, emerging technology for integration 
into more advanced versions of next generation hearing aids and ALDs;
    (c) Automate and simplify methods for conducting hearing loss 
evaluation in infants, children, and adults;
    (d) Develop training and technical assistance materials and provide 
training and technical assistance to hearing aid developers, 
technicians, and appropriate organizations representing persons who are 
HoH to enable them to effectively address the hearing enhancement needs 
of individuals who are HoH;
    (e) Develop and evaluate protocols for incorporating improved 
tinnitus masking technology into next generation hearing aid models;
    (f) Develop and evaluate protocols for efficient integration of ASR 
with interfacing needs of persons with hearing loss including, but not 
limited to, ``real-time captioning,'' automated relay telephone 
systems, and personal hand-held communicators; and
    (g) Develop training and technical assistance materials and provide 
training and technical assistance to hearing aid fitters, pediatric and 
audiology personnel, appropriate counseling organizations, and 
organizations representing people who are HoH to enable them to address 
effectively the hearing aid needs and adjustment to hearing loss 
problems experienced by persons who are HoH and also to provide 
appropriate counseling and guidance to individuals who experience 
    In carrying out the purposes of the priority, the RERC shall 
coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with the NIDRR-
funded RERCs on Universal Telecommunications Access and Communication 
Enhancement and the NIDRR-funded RRTC on HoH/Late Deafened.

Electronic Access to This Document

    Anyone may view this document, as well as all other Department of 
Education documents published in the Federal Register, in text or 
portable document format (pdf) on the World Wide Web at either of the 
following sites:

    To use the pdf you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader Program with 
Search, which is available free at either of the preceding sites. If 
you have questions about using the pdf, call the U.S. Government 
Printing Office toll free at 1-888-293-6498.
    Anyone may also view these documents in text copy only on an 
electronic bulletin board of the Department. Telephone: (202) 219-1511 
or, toll free, 1-800-222-4922. The documents are located under Option 
G--Files/Announcements, Bulletins and Press Releases.

    Note: The official version of this document is the document 
published in the Federal Register.

Invitation to Comment

    Interested persons are invited to submit comments and 
recommendations regarding these proposed priorities. All comments 
submitted in response to this notice will be available for public 
inspection, during and after the comment period, in Room 3424, Switzer 
Building, 330 C Street S.W., Washington, D.C., between the hours of 
9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday of each week except 
Federal holidays.
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR Parts 350 and 353.

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 760-762.
(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number 84.133E, 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers)

    Dated: October 23, 1997.
Judith E. Heumann,
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 97-28693 Filed 10-29-97; 8:45 am]