[Federal Register: April 14, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 71)]
[Page 18299-18306]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 18299]]


Part IV

Department of Education


National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; Notice of 
Proposed Funding Priorities for Fiscal Years 1998-1999 for 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers; Notice

[[Page 18300]]


National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; 
Notice of Proposed Funding Priorities for Fiscal Years 1998-1999 for 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers

SUMMARY: The Secretary proposes funding priorities for five 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) 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 May 14, 1998.

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: comments@ed.gov.
    You must include the term ``Disability and Rehabilitation 
Research--Employment'' in the subject line of your electronic message.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle. Telephone: (202) 205-
5880. Individuals who use a telecommunications device or 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 


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.
    The purpose of this notice is to invite interested parties to 
participate in a pre-application meeting to discuss the funding 
priorities and receive technical assistance through individual 
consultation and information about the funding priorities.

Pre-Application Meeting

    Monday, June 8, 1998. Interested parties are invited to participate 
in a pre-application meetings to discuss the funding priorities for the 
employment-related RRTCs included in this notice and to receive 
technical assistance through individual consultation and information 
about the funding priorities. The pre-application meeting to discuss 
these funding priorities will be held at the Department of Education, 
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Switzer 
Building, Room 1002, 330 C St. SW, Washington, DC between 10:00 a.m. 
and 12:00 a.m. NIDRR staff will also be available at this location from 
1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on that same day to provide technical assistance 
through individual consultation and information about the funding 
priority. NIDRR will make alternate arrangements to accommodate 
interested parties who are unable to attend the pre-application meeting 
in person.

For Further Information Contact:
    In order to obtain further information about the funding priorities 
and the pre-application meeting contact Donna Nangle, U.S. Department 
of Education, Room 3423 Switzer Building, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., 
Washington, D.C. 20202. Telephone: (202) 205-5880. Individuals who use 
a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the TDD number 
at (202) 205-2742.


    This notice contains proposed priorities under the Disability and 
Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program for five RRTCs 
related to: Disability and employment policy, State service systems, 
community rehabilitation programs (CRPs), workplace supports, and 
educational supports.
    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 publication of the notice of final priorities.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers

    The authority for RRTCs is contained in section 204(b)(2) of the 
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 760-762). Under this 
program, the Secretary makes awards to public and private 
organizations, including institutions of higher education and Indian 
tribes or tribal organizations, for coordinated research and training 
activities. These entities must be of sufficient size, scope, and 
quality to effectively carry out the activities of the Center in an 
efficient manner consistent with appropriate State and Federal laws. 
They must demonstrate the ability to carry out the training activities 
either directly or through another entity that can provide that 
    The Secretary may make awards for up to 60 months through grants or 
cooperative agreements. The purpose of the awards is for planning and 
conducting research, training, demonstrations, and related activities 
leading to the development of methods, procedures, and devices that 
will benefit individuals with disabilities, especially those with the 
most severe disabilities.

Description of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers

    RRTCs are operated in collaboration with institutions of higher 
education or providers of rehabilitation services or other appropriate 
services. RRTCs serve as centers of national excellence and national or 
regional resources for providers and individuals with disabilities and 
the parents, family members, guardians, advocates or authorized 
representatives of the individuals.
    RRTCs conduct coordinated, integrated, and advanced programs of 
research in rehabilitation targeted toward the production of new 
knowledge to improve rehabilitation methodology and service delivery 
systems, to alleviate or stabilize disabling conditions, and to promote

[[Page 18301]]

maximum social and economic independence of individuals with 
    RRTCs provide training, including graduate, pre-service, and in-
service training, to assist individuals to more effectively provide 
rehabilitation services. They also provide training including graduate, 
pre-service, and in-service training, for rehabilitation research 
    RRTCs serve as informational and technical assistance resources to 
providers, individuals with disabilities, and the parents, family 
members, guardians, advocates, or authorized representatives of these 
individuals through conferences, workshops, public education programs, 
in-service training programs and similar activities.
    RRTCs disseminate materials in alternate formats to ensure that 
they are accessible to individuals with a range of disabling 
    NIDRR encourages all Centers to involve individuals with 
disabilities and individuals from minority backgrounds as recipients of 
research training, as well as clinical training.
    The Department is particularly interested in ensuring that the 
expenditure of public funds is justified by the execution of intended 
activities and the advancement of knowledge and, thus, has built this 
accountability into the selection criteria. Not later than three years 
after the establishment of any RRTC, NIDRR will conduct one or more 
reviews of the activities and achievements of the Center. In accordance 
with the provisions of 34 CFR 75.253(a), continued funding depends at 
all times on satisfactory performance and accomplishment.

Proposed General RRTC Requirements

    The Secretary proposes that the following requirements apply to 
these RRTCs pursuant to these absolute priorities unless noted 
otherwise. An applicant's proposal to fulfill these proposed 
requirements will be assessed using applicable selection criteria in 
the peer review process. The Secretary is interested in receiving 
comments on these proposed requirements:
    The RRTC must provide: (1) Applied research experience; (2) 
training on research methodology; and (3) training to persons with 
disabilities and their families, service providers, and other 
appropriate parties in accessible formats on knowledge gained from the 
Center's research activities.
    The RRTC must develop and disseminate informational materials based 
on knowledge gained from the Center's research activities, and 
disseminate the materials to persons with disabilities, their 
representatives, service providers, and other interested parties.
    The RRTC must involve individuals with disabilities and, if 
appropriate, their representatives, in planning and implementing its 
research, training, and dissemination activities, and in evaluating the 
    The RRTC 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.


    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.

Research Priorities in Employment of Persons With Disabilities

Issues in the Employment of Persons With Disabilities

    Unemployment and underemployment among working-age Americans with 
disabilities are ongoing problems. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau on 
the labor force status of persons ages 16 to 64 in fiscal year 1996 
highlight the magnitude of this problem (see Table 1). While four-
fifths of working-age Americans were in the labor force and over three-
fourths were working, less than one-third of persons with disabilities 
were in the labor force, and only one-quarter of them were working. 
Fully two-thirds of working-age persons with disabilities were not in 
the labor force, a statistic suggesting that many who may want to work 
have given up looking for a job. Finally, among those in the labor 
force, the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is more than 
double that of nondisabled workers (12.6 percent versus 5.7 percent).

                   Table 1.--Labor Force Participation of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities                  
                                                                                           Not in labor force   
                    Working-age Americans                       In labor     Employed  -------------------------
                                                                 force                     Total      Full time 
                                                                                         (percent)    (percent) 
All working-age persons.....................................         81.3         76.7         62.6         18.7
Working-age persons with disabilities.......................         31.8         27.8         17.7         68.2

    Recent analyses of data from the Survey of Income and Program 
Participation (SIPP) (McNeil, J., Americans with Disabilities: 1994-99, 
Current Population Reports, P70-61, U.S. Census Bureau, 1997) describe 
earnings discrepancies among working adults based on disability status. 
As shown in Table 2, median monthly earnings of working males without a 
disability ($2,190) are nearly $1,000 higher than those of workers with 
a severe disability ($1,262). Working females without a disability earn 
$500 more in median monthly earnings than do females with a severe 
disability ($1,470 versus $1,000).
    Recent trends in the nation's labor market exacerbate the 
difficulties experienced by persons with disabilities in their attempts 
to gain employment and even in their motivation to seek employment. 
Downsizing, for example, has led to a reduction in the percentage of 
individuals in the labor force with stable, long-term jobs that offer 
employee benefits. There has been an increase in the use of contingent 
labor as business and industry move to other configurations that fill 
labor needs without requiring a long-term commitment to workers. This 
``contingent'' workforce takes many forms, including on-call workers, 
temporary help agency workers, workers provided by contract firms, and 
independent contractors paid wages or salaries directly from the 
company (Uchitelle, L., ``More Downsized Workers Are Returning as 
Rentals,'' New York Times, December 8, 1996; Clark, R., ``Planning for 
the Future Environmental Scanning Forum: Final Report,'' Office of 
Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), Washington, DC, 
1997). Many of these types of jobs lack the security and

[[Page 18302]]

benefits, particularly health insurance, that most persons with 
disabilities require in order to participate in the labor force. 
Further, some individuals believe that the nation's political climate 
is such that government supports for underemployed persons are likely 
to decline in the future (Clark, R., ibid.; Conlan, T., Planning for 
the Future Environmental Scanning Forum: Final Report, OSERS, 
Washington, DC, 1997).

 Table 2.--Monthly Earnings of Nondisabled and Disabled Working Adults, 
                                            Median monthly earnings     
               Gender                     No       Nonsevere    Severe  
                                      disability  disability  disability
Male................................     $2,190      $1,857     $ 1,262 
Female..............................      1,470       1,200       1,000 

    In addition, while many of the nation's business and education 
communities point to the need for highly educated, highly skilled 
workers if the nation is to succeed in the increasingly competitive 
global economy, the reality is more complex. On the one hand, 
availability of high-skilled jobs combined with rapid advances in 
technology may in fact improve the employment prospects of persons with 
disabilities as well as other workers, through such work arrangements 
as telecommuting and expanding the market for self-employment or small 
business. On the other hand, a sizable segment of the labor market 
includes low-skilled, low-paying jobs, in which persons with 
disabilities are disproportionally represented (Hayward, B., and 
Tashjian, M., ``A Longitudinal Study of the Vocational Rehabilitation 
Service Program: Second Interim Report, ``Characteristics and 
Perspectives of Vocational Rehabilitation Consumers,'' Research 
Triangle Institute, 1996).
    Researchers have suspected a relationship between changes in the 
configuration of the nation's labor market and growth in the number of 
persons with disabilities who are recipients of disability benefits, 
but such a relationship is hard to demonstrate empirically (Rupp, K. 
and Stapleton, D., ``Economic and Noneconomic Determinants of the 
Growth in the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) Disability 
Programs--Overview of Theories and Evidence,'' Social Security 
Bulletin, 58(4), pgs. 43-70, 1995). In the past ten years, the number 
of persons who receive cash benefits through Social Security Disability 
Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) has increased 
by two-thirds, with SSA paying out approximately $72 billion annually 
to eight million recipients. Including Medicare and Medicaid benefits, 
the annual Federal expenditure exceeds $110 billion, and policymakers 
expect the costs of cash benefits alone will exceed $110 billion 
annually by the end of the current administration (Coelho, T., 
``Keynote Speech: Employment Post the Americans with Disabilities 
Act,'' Conference sponsored by the SSA, Washington, DC, 1997).
    In addition to the changing macroeconomic work world, there are 
important changes in the conceptualization of disability. In this 
``new'' disability paradigm, there is increased emphasis on the 
environment's role in creating barriers to an individual with 
disability's participation in society. NIDRR will support research that 
focuses on how the individual interacts with society. In terms of 
employment, this interaction may focus on environmental barriers to 
employment, including transportation, accommodations, attitudes, or 
programmatic barriers such as health insurance.
    Recent investigations into the explosive growth of the disability 
benefit rolls and the inability of the existing service delivery system 
to return greater numbers of beneficiaries to employment have 
identified a wide variety of issues that merit further research. For 
example, data available from the Longitudinal Study of the Title I 
Vocational Rehabilitation Program indicate that the current structure 
of SSA benefits and work incentives is not adequate to address consumer 
concerns about income security (Hayward, B. and Tashjian, M., op. 
cit.). As shown in Table 3, when asked to identify reasons for not 
working, a substantially higher percentage of beneficiaries identified 
concern about a loss of total income or medical coverage than did 
    Addressing the issue of medical coverage is especially critical, 
since less than half (43.7 percent) of all persons aged 22 to 64 years 
old with a severe disability have private health insurance (McNeil, J., 
op. cit.). Under the current benefit structure, availability of medical 
benefits is tied to eligibility for cash benefits. Loss of medical 
coverage associated with a return to work is the major concern for many 
beneficiaries contemplating employment. As the data also suggest, many 
beneficiaries, who have little to no work history, are concerned that 
the income they might receive from available employment will not match 
the combined value of cash benefits and medical coverage they receive 
through SSA.

             Table 3.--Self-Reported Reasons for Not Working            
    Issues preventing consumers from         SSI/DI        with severe  
    obtaining employment or working      beneficiaries    disabilities  
               regularly                   (percent)        (percent)   
I am afraid I would lose my medical                                     
 insurance.............................          48.3             26.5  
I am afraid I could not get back on                                     
 benefits if I lost the job............          50.8             26.1  
I do not think I could earn as much                                     
 working as I get from my benefits.....          42.1             19.8  

    A number of public and private initiatives target employment for 
persons with disabilities. These include the State-Federal Vocational 
Rehabilitation Program, community rehabilitation program services, 
school-to-work programs, and employer sponsored programs primarily 
targeted at individuals already in the work force. For the past 75 
years, the chief avenue of publicly funded employment-related services 
to improve the employment status of persons with disabilities has been 
the State-Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Program, currently 
authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. Funded at 
$2.3 billion in Federal funds for fiscal year 1998 and a 22 percent 
State match for a total of an estimated $3 billion annually, the State-
Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Program is designed to assist States 
in providing state-of-the-art, comprehensive and coordinated

[[Page 18303]]

vocational rehabilitation services. State Vocational Rehabilitation 
agency staff assist persons with disabilities to establish vocational 
goals that are consistent with their strengths, resources, priorities, 
concerns, abilities, and capabilities in order that they may prepare 
for and engage in gainful employment. The program is authorized to 
provide an array of services that are intended to facilitate the 
employment of persons with disabilities, such as assessment, counseling 
and guidance, vocational or other training, physical and mental 
restoration, maintenance, and other necessary services and supports.
    Reform of the current rehabilitation service delivery system is 
underway, and the possible effects of changes in the system require 
investigation. The State-Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Program is 
increasing consumers' control and expanding their role in policy 
development, implementing program performance standards, and 
streamlining the vocational rehabilitation process. In addition to 
these and other changes in the State-Federal Vocational Rehabilitation 
Program, a host of other ongoing reforms in the broader service 
delivery environment are occurring. In particular, the recent growth in 
the number of SSI/SSDI beneficiaries has sparked considerable 
Congressional interest in reforming the system of employment services 
that target persons with disabilities. Congressional interest includes 
revising existing SSA work incentives and expanding consumer choice in 
the selection of a vocational rehabilitation service provider through 
return-to-work tickets or vouchers for some or all recipients of 
disability benefits. Implementation of a return-to-work ticket program 
may have significant implications for current and future SSI/SSDI 
beneficiaries, including the level of control they will have over 
decisions about whether to participate in such a program, the selection 
of an employment goal and specific rehabilitation services, and changes 
in service providers or employers over time.
    There are nearly 7,000 CRPs serving approximately 800,000 
individuals with disabilities each day with funding from State 
vocational rehabilitation agencies, Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) 
programs, Workman's Compensation, Medicaid, private insurance, and 
other sources (Menz, F., ``Vocational Rehabilitation Research in the 
United States of America,'' Vocational Rehabilitation in Europe, p. 
107, 1997). The role of CRPs in the overall service delivery 
environment may increase even further if Federal employment programs 
devolve to States and communities. CRPs may need to be prepared to 
offer a full range of vocational-related services, or highly 
specialized services to an increasingly heterogeneous consumer 
population. If return-to-work programs in which provider payments are 
based on successful consumer outcomes are among the new service 
delivery models implemented, new relationships between service 
providers and funding sources may emerge over the next few years. These 
new relationships are likely to require CRPs to adapt their current 
structure and operations in significant ways.
    A number of questions about how these changes may potentially 
influence and affect CRPs remain unanswered. For instance, more needs 
to be known about the impact of consumer choice on different service 
delivery models and the efficacy of different models to maximize 
competitive employment outcomes for persons with severe disabilities or 
with specific types of disabilities. Finally, whether new funding 
mechanisms will promote increased competition and innovation in service 
delivery by CRPs is a major question. Knowledge about these and related 
areas is essential to validating assumptions around which pending 
reforms are predicated and to help shape the future direction of 
initiatives designed to increase the numbers of persons with severe 
disabilities who obtain and retain meaningful employment.
    Workplace supports are programs or interventions provided in the 
workplace to enable persons with disabilities to be successful in 
securing and maintaining employment. Some workplace supports may be 
provided through formal mechanisms established by vocational 
rehabilitation programs, such as supported employment. Supported 
employment programs usually provide onsite assistance, provided by a 
job coach who works with the person with the disability as well as with 
co-workers and supervisors to ease the transition to the competitive 
employment setting (``Evaluating the Effectiveness and Efficiency of 
Supported Employment Programs,'' Policy Research Brief, Volume 5, No. 
2, Center on Residential Services and Community Living, College of 
Education, University of Minnesota, 1993).
    In addition, employers have developed a number of support 
mechanisms in the form of return-to-work programs and related 
disability management programs. These programs use case management 
strategies to ensure communication among medical providers, 
supervisors, and employees to prevent disability; or, when accidents or 
disease occur, to foster early return-to-work. Particularly important 
to these programs is the establishment of a framework that sends a 
clear message that the employer wants the employee to continue working 
or to return to work as quickly as appropriate. Workplace supports also 
include employer willingness to implement accommodations and to 
encourage supervisors to work to integrate the person with disability 
back into the workforce. Often the reintegration process requires that 
treatment personnel understand job requirements and essential job 
functions in order to assess the ability of the employee to perform the 
job adequately. Finally, incentives embedded in employee benefit plans 
must be used to encourage the worker to maintain employment.
    In addition to workplace supports, employees are protected under 
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits 
discrimination on the basis of disability in employment. This law 
requires that employers with 15 or more employees provide qualified 
persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full 
range of employment-related opportunities available to others. The ADA 
prohibits employers from discriminating against workers with 
disabilities and applies to individuals with disabilities who are 
seeking employment, as well as to those who are employed. Employers 
must provide reasonable accommodations to workers to overcome 
disability-related barriers to performing essential job functions. In 
addition, various government programs have experimented with strategies 
to improve employer receptivity to workers with disabilities, including 
tax credits and partial support of health benefits to encourage 
employers to hire persons with disabilities. Given the role that 
workplace supports can play in assisting employers to expand and 
improve employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, 
investigation of issues related to the development and implementation 
of innovative workplace supports is essential.
    Over the past 20 years, changes in the nation's labor market have 
increased the importance of post-high school education in terms of 
employment success. Gingerich reported unemployment rates of persons 
with disabilities by level of education as follows: 12 percent among 
individuals with less than a high school diploma, 6.3 percent among 
those with a diploma, 4.2 percent among persons

[[Page 18304]]

with some postsecondary education, and 2.5 percent among persons with 
at least four years of college. In 1992, earnings of college graduates 
were 50 percent higher than those of persons with only a high school 
diploma (Gingerich, J., ``Vast Spaces and Stone Walls: Overcoming 
Barriers to Postsecondary Education for Rural Students with 
Disabilities,'' American Council on Rural Special Education Conference, 
    Concurrently, the percentage of postsecondary students reporting a 
disability has tripled, from less than 3 percent in 1978 to over 9 
percent (about 140,000) in 1994. The largest growth has been students 
reporting a learning disability, representing about one-third of all 
postsecondary students reporting a disability, double the 1988 figure 
of 15 percent (Henderson, C., ``College Freshmen with Disabilities: A 
Statistical Profile,'' American Council on Education, Washington, DC, 
1995). Ongoing research sponsored by the Office of Special Education 
Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education, is testing a methodology 
to determine the types of services youth exiting secondary school can 
be expected to require in their transition to adulthood (``Services 
Anticipated to Be Needed by Exiting Students with Disabilities: Results 
of the Second PASS Field Test,'' OSEP, 1996). While case management is 
the most frequently needed service (up to 80 percent of exiting youth 
require this service), over half will reportedly require services to 
support their participation in postsecondary education, including two- 
and four-year colleges and various forms of adult literacy programs 
(e.g., General Equivalency Diploma preparation, adult high schools, and 
adult basic education) (OSEP, ibid.).
    Most of the nation's 3,000 postsecondary institutions offer support 
services to students with disabilities. Such services vary widely and 
may include: (1) Individual academic accommodations (e.g., note taking, 
library and typing assistance, alternative testing arrangements, books 
on tape, readers, interpreters, tutors, and waivers of course 
requirements); (2) adaptive equipment (portable wheelchair-accessible 
desks, voice-activated computers, speech synthesizer-equipped 
computers); (3) case management and coordination (liaison with 
vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and other community 
resources); (4) advocacy; and (5) personal counseling, academic and 
career advising.
    Given that such disability-related services are a relatively new 
addition to the postsecondary environment, a number of issues 
associated with their provision merit investigation, including: (1) 
Whether the requirement that a person disclose his disability in order 
to obtain services is a deterrent to postsecondary enrollment and 
completion; (2) accessibility of vocational rehabilitation or other 
funding sources of funds for services not covered under ADA or Section 
504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, but necessary for a 
student's continued enrollment; (3) the impact of such services on 
students' completion of postsecondary education; and (4) the extent to 
which the institution provides transitional support to graduates as 
they attempt to enter the labor force.
    To accommodate the changing nature of the nation's employment 
environment, along with anticipated policy changes that will affect all 
segments of the employment and training delivery system, NIDRR intends 
to apply new approaches and rigorous methods to research about the 
employment of persons with disabilities. Fundamental to these 
approaches and methods is NIDRR's intent to support research that is 
outcome based and has a high likelihood of making significant 
contributions to the advancement of knowledge and improved service 
delivery. NIDRR proposes a research agenda that emphasizes 
collaborative, interdisciplinary studies that contribute to knowledge 
about problems and issues related to the employment of persons with 

Proposed Priority 1: Disability and Employment Policy Background

    The effect of macroeconomic trends on the employment of persons 
with disabilities and public policy responses to these trends merit 
increased investigation. A coordinated research effort must examine 
issues, (e.g., the changing structure of the workforce, economic 
trends, labor market changes, new skill requirements, incentives and 
disincentives to work, devolution of responsibility for employment 
training to State and local levels, and new service delivery patterns 
that necessitate changes in Vocational Rehabilitation Program 
configurations) to improve employment and economic self-sufficiency for 
persons with disabilities. Of particular interest are implications of 
cross-agency and multiple agency developments and initiatives, 
including welfare reform, workforce development, changes in Social 
Security benefits and disability determination policies, Medicare and 
Medicaid changes, and the U.S. Department of Education--U.S. Department 
of Labor school-to-work program. Investigative studies that are 
national in scope and test alternative models for financing services, 
and infrastructure changes that may yield increased opportunities for 
persons with disabilities are essential.

Proposed Priority 1

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RRTC on disability and 
employment policy for the purpose of improving our understanding of 
public policy and its relationship to improving employment outcomes for 
persons with disabilities. The RRTC shall:
    (1) Develop predictive models for national macroeconomic trends 
affecting employment of persons with disabilities;
    (2) Identify and analyze the relationship between select Federal 
and State policies including, but not limited to, welfare reform and 
innovations in Social Security programs affecting persons with 
disabilities, the Executive order on ``Increasing Employment for Adults 
with Disabilities'', and issues of contingent workforce and 
accompanying changes (e.g., part-time benefits and demands for new and 
flexible skills), upon the employment of persons with disabilities;
    (3) Using existing data, conduct a comprehensive analysis of the 
employment status of persons with disabilities, identifying gaps in 
current data availability and collection methodologies;
    (4) Identify and analyze the factors, such as pre- and post-
disability earnings, education, type of job, personal assistance 
service, and benefit design, that predict return-to-work;
    (5) Analyze the policy implications of outcome-based reimbursement 
on the delivery of employment and rehabilitation services to persons 
with disabilities;
    (6) Identify and analyze the effect of civil rights protections and 
environmental factors (e.g., barriers to transportation and employer 
attitudes) on significantly promoting or depressing the employment 
status of persons with disabilities; and
    (7) Identify and analyze policies and resource availability issues 
that foster or impede the participation of transitioning students in 
rehabilitation training or employment services programs.

Proposed Priority 2: State Service Systems Background

    The public vocational rehabilitation service system is in the midst 
of major reform. The 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act 
mandated: (1)

[[Page 18305]]

Expanded consumer choice in the selection of goals, services, and 
providers; (2) implementation of program performance standards for 
State vocational rehabilitation agencies; and (3) an expanded consumer 
role in policy developed through the Rehabilitation Advisory Councils. 
The influence of these and other changes, such as a streamlined 
vocational rehabilitation process, on employment outcomes for persons 
with disabilities is unknown. Moreover, the current and future impact 
of recent reforms in the broader service delivery system, such as 
workforce development consolidation and return-to-work programs 
employing vouchers or ``tickets,'' merit investigation.

Proposed Priority 2

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RRTC for the purpose of 
improving the effectiveness of State service systems on promoting 
employment outcomes for persons with disabilities. The RRTC shall:
    (1) Describe the State systems that deliver employment services to 
persons with disabilities, including transitioning students. Identify 
how and to what extent the different components of the system, such as 
State vocational rehabilitation agencies, disability determination 
services, JTPA's Private Industry Councils, one-stop shops, and 
schools, coordinate their efforts;
    (2) Analyze existing State and Federal data sets, including client 
and service provider characteristics, to determine different employment 
outcomes for persons with disabilities;
    (3) Describe how State vocational rehabilitation agencies and other 
agencies within the State service delivery system overcome 
environmental barriers (e.g., using assistive technology, jobsite 
modifications, and personal assistance services) in order to improve 
employment outcomes;
    (4) Evaluate the success of State service system efforts to address 
the unique employment-related needs of SSDI and SSI beneficiaries and 
identify State systems that have implemented demonstrably effective 
employment programs in assisting recipients of disability benefits to 
achieve a successful return-to-work; and
    (5) Describe the progress of State and Federal initiatives to 
consolidate workforce development programs and identify policies and 
procedures that have been successful in ensuring the availability and 
provision of services to persons with the most severe disabilities.

Proposed Priority 3: Community Rehabilitation Programs Background

    Proposed restructuring of the financing of employment-related 
services for persons with disabilities assumes a major role for CRPs. 
The capacity and potential contributions of an estimated 7,000 CRPs 
across the nation require thorough investigation. Further, the 
potential of this system to assume greater responsibility for service 
delivery under contractual or other agreements (e.g., return-to-work 
``ticket'' systems for SSDI and SSI recipients) merits study.

Proposed Priority 3

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RRTC on CRPs to improve 
their role in promoting employment outcomes for persons with 
disabilities. The RRTC shall:
    (1) Describe the CRPs service delivery system, including the 
characteristics of providers, funding sources, nature and extent of the 
services provided, and individuals served, and identify the relative 
contributions of the programs to providing rehabilitation and 
employment services.
    (2) Identify how services delivered by CRPs to State vocational 
rehabilitation agency consumers differ in quality, timeliness, 
quantity, costs, or outcomes from those delivered to consumers through 
other payor sources;
    (3) Investigate the extent to which CRPs provide consumers with 
choices in the selection of employment goals and specific 
rehabilitation services;
    (4) Analyze the impact of Federal and State policies on the 
structure and operation of CRPs, including management approaches, 
staffing configurations and staff training, outreach to underserved 
populations, and emerging service configurations; and
    (5) Evaluate the nature and success of employment outcomes of 
persons who obtain services from CRPs.

Proposed Priority 4: Workplace Supports Background

    The work environment for persons with disabilities, including both 
the physical environment (as represented by job requirements, job site 
accommodations, and technological aids), and the roles of employers, 
supervisors, and co-workers, has received insufficient attention in 
past research. An improved understanding of the work environment and 
employer needs and preferences is necessary to improve employment 
outcomes. Employer disability management and return-to-work programs 
are one potential source of information on effective employer 
accommodation strategies for employees with disabilities. NIDRR will 
support research that investigates employer roles, collaboration 
between education and rehabilitation professionals and employers, 
strategies to improve employer receptivity to workers with 
disabilities, and the impact of incentives, such as tax credits and 
partial support of health benefits, to encourage employers to hire 
persons with disabilities. In addition, this research will examine the 
viability of new work structures, including telecommuting, flexible 
work hours and self-employment, for persons with disabilities.

Proposed Priority 4

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RRTC on workplace supports 
for the purpose of identifying and evaluating effective workplace 
supports that improve employment outcomes for persons with 
disabilities. The RRTC shall:
    (1) Analyze the potential of existing or new employer incentives, 
such as tax credits or Medicare buydowns to improve labor force 
participation of persons with disabilities;
    (2) Develop and test financial analysis methodologies analyses, 
such as return on investment or economic value added to measure 
effectiveness of employer workplace supports and their contribution to 
employer profitability;
    (3) Identify and evaluate effective employer disability management, 
return-to-work, or other strategies that affect hiring, retention, and 
advancement of workers with disabilities;
    (4) Evaluate the impact of workplace support on changes in the 
employment status of persons with disabilities in terms of job types, 
career advancement, and other outcomes important to meaningful 
employment of persons with disabilities;
    (5) Conduct research to determine how changes in work structure 
will affect hiring, retention, advancement, and job satisfaction for 
persons with disability; and
    (6) Examine perspectives of employers to determine their needs 
(e.g., for information, training, and resources) that will facilitate 
the employment of individuals with disabilities with necessary work 

Proposed Priority 5: Educational Supports Background

    The U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan, 1998-2002, 

[[Page 18306]]

postsecondary education as ``America's traditional gateway to the 
professions, more challenging jobs, and higher wages.'' Insufficient 
information exists about the use and impact of educational supports for 
persons with disabilities in postsecondary environments. Of particular 
interest are the types of educational and transition assistance that 
postsecondary institutions make available to improve the educational 
and subsequent labor market success of students with disabilities. 
Systemic and environmental barriers to full participation in 
postsecondary programs by individuals with disabilities must be studied 
as well. In addition, promising postsecondary educational practices 
important to the career mobility and success of individuals with 
disabilities must be investigated, at a minimum, to determine whether 
educational supports are available as needed, and whether they are 
effective in improving the educational performance of individuals with 

Proposed Priority 5

    The Secretary proposes to establish an RRTC on educational supports 
to increase access and improve outcomes for individuals with 
disabilities in postsecondary education programs. The RRTC shall:
    (1) Identify the nature and range of educational supports that are 
available to students with disabilities in postsecondary educational 
programs by type of program (e.g., colleges, vocational and technical 
institutes, adult educational programs), and type of disability;
    (2) Examine the contributions of technological advances to the 
effectiveness of student support systems at the postsecondary level;
    (3) Investigate the effectiveness of educational supports in terms 
of educational outcomes and labor force participation; and
    (4) Investigate the extent to which institutional supports extend 
to the employment environment, with particular emphasis on the special 
needs of persons with severe disabilities.

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.

    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR Part 350.

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 760-762.

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Numbers 84.133B, 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers)

    Dated: April 9, 1998.
Judith E. Heumann,
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 98-9781 Filed 4-13-98; 8:45 am]