[Federal Register: April 18, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 75)]
[Page 20077-20080]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Part III

Department of Education


National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; Notice

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National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research

AGENCY: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 
Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice of a Proposed Funding Priority for Fiscal Years (FYs) 
2001-2003 for a Rehabilitation Research Engineering Center.


SUMMARY: We propose a funding priority under the Rehabilitation 
Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Mobile Wireless Technologies for 
Persons with Disabilities under the National Institute on Disability 
and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) for FYs 2001-2003. We take this 
action to focus research attention on areas of national need. We intend 
this priority to improve the rehabilitation services and outcomes for 
individuals with disabilities.

DATES: We must receive your comments on or before May 18, 2001.

ADDRESSES: All comments concerning this proposed priority should be 
addressed to Donna Nangle, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland 
Avenue, SW., room 3414, Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-2645. 
Comments may also be sent through the Internet: donna_nangle@ed.gov

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) 205-4475.
    Individuals with disabilities may obtain this document in an 
alternative format (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to the contact person listed in the preceding 


Invitation to Comment

    We invite you to submit comments regarding this proposed priority.
    We invite you to assist us in complying with the specific 
requirements of Executive Order 12866 and its overall requirement of 
reducing regulatory burden that might result from this proposed 
priority. Please let us know of any further opportunities we should 
take to reduce potential costs or increase potential benefits while 
preserving the effective and efficient administration of the program.
    During and after the comment period, you may inspect all public 
comments about this priority in Room 3414, Switzer Building, 330 C 
Street SW., Washington, DC, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 
p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday of each week except Federal 

Assistance to Individuals With Disabilities in Reviewing the 
Rulemaking Record

    On request, we will supply an appropriate aid, such as a reader or 
print magnifier, to an individual with a disability who needs 
assistance to review the comments or other documents in the public 
rulemaking record for this proposed priority. If you want to schedule 
an appointment for this type of aid, you may call (202) 205-8113 or 
(202) 260-9895. If you use a TDD, you may call the Federal Information 
Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339.

National Education Goals

    This proposed priority will address the National Education Goal 
that every adult American will be literate and will possess the 
knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and 
exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
    The authority for the program 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 (the Act), 
as amended (29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764. Regulations governing this 
program are found in 34 CFR part 350.
    We will announce the final priority in a notice in the Federal 
Register. We will determine the final priority after considering 
responses to this notice and other information available to the 
Department. This notice does not preclude us from proposing or funding 
additional priorities, subject to meeting applicable rulemaking 

    Note: This notice does not solicit applications. In any year in 
which we choose to use this proposed priority, we invite 
applications through a notice published in the Federal Register. 
When inviting applications we designate each priority as absolute, 
competitive preference, or invitational.

    The proposed priority refers to NIDRR's Long-Range Plan that can be 
accessed on the World Wide Web at: (http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers Program

    We may make awards for up to 60 months through grants or 
cooperative agreements 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.

Description of Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers

    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 disabilities.
    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.

Proposed Priority: RERC on Mobile Wireless Technologies for Persons 
With Disabilities


    The information technology (IT) revolution is fundamentally 
altering the way Americans work, purchase goods and services, 
communicate, and play. Today, one can access information using any 
number of electronic devices and networks, including computers 
connected to ``plain old telephone lines'' (POTS), televisions 
connected to cable or digital satellite networks, cellular telephones, 
or wireless hand-

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held personal digital assistant devices. Unlike earlier information 
technologies (i.e., print, radio, telephone, television and telefax), 
mobile communications networks, the Internet and the World Wide Web did 
not enter into our daily lives gradually--rather, they exploded onto 
the scene. While the economic impact of this transformation has not 
been fully evaluated at either the individual or systems level, it is 
    The proliferation of information technologies, including wireless 
technologies, does not guarantee accessibility for persons with 
disabilities. According to a recent study, only 23.9% of people with 
disabilities have access to a computer at home compared to just over 
half (51.7%) of their non-disabled counterparts. The gap in Internet 
use is even more striking: roughly 10% of people with disabilities 
connect to the Internet compared to almost 40% of those without 
disabilities. Elderly people with disabilities are even less likely to 
make use of these technologies. Among those 65 years of age or older, 
only 10% of individuals with disabilities have computers at home and, 
of those, only 2.2% use the Internet (Kaye, H.S., ``Computer and 
Internet Use Among People with Disabilities,'' Disability Statistics 
Report (14), U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on 
Disability and Rehabilitation Research, Washington, DC, 1999).
    Chapter 5 of NIDRR's Long-Range Plan (64 FR 45768) discusses the 
importance of making information technology accessible to persons with 
disabilities of all ages, and includes a discussion of universal access 
and the need for continued research and development in this area. 
Unfortunately, while advances in computers and information technologies 
create new opportunities for some individuals, they create barriers for 
others. The proliferation of electronic visual and tactile displays 
(i.e., LCD, LED, and touch screens) on home appliances, business 
equipment, and public access terminals also poses a major problem for 
individuals with sensory and motor deficits unless alternative methods 
for accessing and using these devices are made available. Conversely, 
audio cues (beeps) cannot convey information to individuals who are 
deaf or hard of hearing. Of particular concern is that an increasing 
number of functions are being integrated onto single chips or 
motherboards, obviating the need for third party accessories such as 
sound cards or voice input devices. This makes changes or modifications 
to these built-in features difficult or even impossible.
    Cellular communications are wireless communications that occur in 
small ``cells'' or geographic areas on land. When one talks on a 
cellular phone their voice is transmitted to a nearby tower (usually 
within ten miles). Cellular phone calls are then passed from tower to 
tower as cellular users move from one geographic area to the next. To 
manage all the communications, the cellular phones and towers must 
``speak'' the same language. The Internet and World Wide Web 
revolutions began in the 1990's and, in less than a decade, have been 
responsible for reshaping the way information is accessed and the way 
commerce is conducted (Hjelm, J., Designing Wireless Information 
Services, Wiley Computer Publishing, New York, pg. 2, 2000).
    Technologies that launched the digital revolution are undergoing 
rapid changes, resulting in a new generation of mobile information 
systems. The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) was developed in 1997 
by numerous wireless companies in an attempt to make a common interface 
for wireless devices to access the Internet (Hjelm, J., op cit., pg. 
293, 2000). This standard is currently being implemented into cellular 
phones and personal digital assistants and includes the technology to 
transmit data back and forth using ``micro-browsers.'' Micro-browsers 
are analogous to Internet browsers used on personal computers but have 
far fewer features so only the most relevant information is 
communicated using WAP (Mock, D.L., ``Wireless 101: A Guide to Wireless 
Investing for Newbies and non-Techies,'' Rev. 2, pgs. 13-14, July, 
2000). A new technology that is poised to revolutionize the IT industry 
is the Bluetooth Protocol Architecture, the name given to a new short-
range radio frequency technology that could ultimately replace data 
wire connections on just about any electronic device. Bluetooth 
technologies will enable electronic devices within about 30 feet of 
each other to communicate over a high-speed wireless connection and 
could transcend any environment (Hjelm, J., op cit., pg. 292, 2000).
    The future generation of wireless technologies, commonly referred 
to as ``third generation'' systems, will ultimately have the capacity 
to transmit data, text, voice, and graphics between terminals that may 
be fixed or moving, with bandwidth that varies according to the instant 
demand and is charged for on that basis (Shipley, T. and Gill, J., 
``Inclusive Design of Wireless Systems,'' Royal National Institute for 
the Blind, London, England, pg. 27, 2000). Third generation systems 
will provide Internet access as well as point-to-point communication, 
and will ultimately merge with other wireless technologies, such as 
Bluetooth (Ibid).
    The ubiquitous nature of mobile wireless communications brings with 
it a host of opportunities as well as challenges. For example, a 
cellular telephone cannot present information in the same way that a 
laptop or desktop can. Furthermore, different environments require 
different types of input and output. It is difficult to use a keyboard 
when walking, difficult and even dangerous to use a device that 
requires visual attention when driving, and devices that require speech 
input or output are not practical in noisy environments.
    People with disabilities should be able to benefit from the 
evolving digital revolution on equal terms, freed from the barriers of 
inaccessible technology (Ibid, pg. 27). This will happen only if the 
new wave of wireless communications systems are designed to accommodate 
a broad range of abilities among users (Ibid, pg. 2). Without an 
inclusive approach to design, large segments of this target population 
will find themselves precluded from accessing and participating in the 
new information driven society (Ibid). The infrastructure to support 
the new era of wireless technologies will be complex and expensive, and 
because of this there will be reluctance to make changes once systems 
are operational. Therefore, it is imperative that the design of both 
systems and equipment be considered carefully at the outset of 
    Further, there is a critical shortage of engineers and product 
designers who are capable of providing expertise to developers and 
manufacturers about incorporating accessible and universal design 
features into their IT products. Achieving this goal will require 
product designers and IT experts to collaborate more closely with 
clinicians, service providers, and consumers to identify potential 
applications of new telecommunications devices and systems that support 
independent living, employment, and community integration. Finally, 
more individuals need to be trained to educate consumers, customer 
service professionals, technical writers, web developers, marketers, 
and other IT related professionals about accessible and usable 
information technologies.
    NIDRR currently funds RERCs on Information Technology Access and 
Telecommunications Access. The RERC on Mobile Wireless Technologies for 
Persons with Disabilities will be required to coordinate with these two

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RERCs on relevant policy and regulatory activities and other activities 
of mutual interest.

Priority: RERC on Mobile Wireless Technologies for Persons With 

    We propose to establish an RERC on mobile wireless technologies to 
investigate promising applications of, and facilitate equitable access 
to, future generations of mobile wireless technologies for individuals 
with disabilities of all ages and to expand research and development 
capacity within this subject area. The RERC must:
    (a) Investigate, develop, and evaluate technological solutions in 
collaboration with industry to promote universal access and usability 
in future generations of mobile wireless technologies;
    (b) Investigate, develop, and evaluate applications of mobile 
wireless technologies that could benefit persons with disabilities in 
independent living, employment, and community integration such as 
healthcare monitoring, environmental control, emergency location 
signaling devices, scheduling maintenance, mobile communications, etc.;
    (c) Investigate, develop, and evaluate innovative and flexible 
multi-modal interface methods for accessing and using future 
generations of mobile wireless technologies such as home appliances, 
mobile communication systems and portable information terminals, office 
equipment, health-monitoring devices, and public access terminals;
    (d) Identify, implement, and evaluate, in collaboration with the 
wireless IT industry, professional IT associations, and institutions of 
higher education, innovative approaches to expand capacity in 
accessible IT studies including design, research and development;
    (e) Monitor trends and evolving product concepts that represent and 
signify future directions for mobile wireless technologies; and
    (f) Provide technical assistance to public and private 
organizations responsible for developing policies, guidelines and 
standards that affect the accessibility of mobile wireless technologies 
and systems that are manufactured and implemented.
    In addition to the activities proposed by the applicant to carry 
out these purposes, the RERC must:
     Collaborate with industry, industrial consortia, and 
professional and trade associations on all activities;
     Develop and implement in the first year of the grant, and 
in consultation with the NIDRR-funded National Center for the 
Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR), a plan to disseminate the 
RERC's research results to disability organizations, persons with 
disabilities, technology service providers, businesses, manufacturers, 
and appropriate journals;
     Develop and implement in the first year of the grant, and 
in consultation with the NIDRR-funded RERC on Technology Transfer, a 
utilization plan for ensuring that all new and improved technologies 
developed by this RERC are successfully transferred to the marketplace;
     Conduct a state-of-the-science conference on accessible 
information technologies in the third year of the grant cycle and 
publish a comprehensive report on the final outcomes of the conference 
in the fourth year of the grant cycle; and
     Coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with 
relevant NIDRR-funded projects such as the RERCs on Information 
Technology Access and Telecommunications Access and the Information 
Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center, as identified 
through consultation with the NIDRR project officer.
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 350.
    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764(b)(3).
    Electronic Access to This Document: You may view this document, as 
well as all other Department of Education documents published in the 
Federal Register, in text or Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) on 
the Internet at the following site: www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister
    To use PDF you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available 
free at the previous site. If you have questions about using PDF, call 
the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), toll free, at 1-888-293-
6498; or in the Washington, DC, area at (202) 512-1530.

    Note: The official version of this document is published in the 
Federal Register. Free Internet access to the official edition of 
the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations is 
available on GPO Access at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/

(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number: 84.133E, 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center Program)

    Dated: April 12, 2001.
Francis V. Corrigan,
Deputy Director, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation 
[FR Doc. 01-9546 Filed 4-17-01; 8:45 am]