[Federal Register: April 25, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 80)]
[Page 20865-20870]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 20865]]


Part II

Department of Education


 National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research


Notice of Proposed Funding Priorities for Fiscal Years (FYs) 2001-2003 
for Two Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers; Notice

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National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research

Notice of Proposed Funding Priorities for Fiscal Years (FYs) 
2001-2003 for Two Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers

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

ACTION: Notice of Proposed Funding Priorities for Fiscal Years (FYs) 
2001-2003 for two Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers.


SUMMARY: We propose funding priorities for two Rehabilitation Research 
and Training Centers (RRTC) under the National Institute on Disability 
and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) for FY 2001-2003: One on 
Rehabilitation of Persons who are Blind or Visually Impaired and one on 
Rehabilitation of Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. We may use 
these priorities for competitions in FY 2001 and later years. We take 
this action to focus research attention on areas of national need. We 
intend these priorities to improve the rehabilitation services and 
outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

DATES: We must receive your comments on or before May 25, 2001.

ADDRESSES: All comments concerning these proposed priorities 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 these proposed 
    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 these proposed 
priorities. 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 these priorities in Room 3414, Switzer Building, 330 C 
Street SW., Washington, DC, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 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 that needs 
assistance to review the comments or other documents in the public 
rulemaking record for these proposed priorities. 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

    These proposed priorities 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, as 
amended (29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764(b)). Regulations governing this 
program are found in 34 CFR part 350.
    We will announce the final priorities in a notice in the Federal 
Register. We will determine the final priorities 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 these proposed priorities, 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 priorities refer to NIDRR's Long-Range Plan that can 
be accessed on the World Wide Web at: (http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/

Authority for Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers

    The authority for the RRTC program is contained in section 
204(b)(2) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 
764(b)(2)). 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 
training. 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 
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 
personnel and other rehabilitation personnel.
    RRTCs serve as informational and technical assistance resources to 
providers, individuals with disabilities,

[[Page 20867]]

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 
    RRTCs disseminate materials in alternative 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 Priority 1: Rehabilitation of Persons Who Are Blind or 
Visually Impaired


    Based on 1996 worldwide population estimates, approximately 45 
million persons are blind and 135 million have low vision (World Health 
Organization Programs for the Prevention of Blindness and Deafness, 
1997). One in six Americans (17 percent, 45 years or older, 
representing 13.5 million middle-aged and older adults) reports some 
form of vision impairment even when wearing glasses or contact lenses 
(The Lighthouse Inc., 1995). Nationally among persons age 21 to 64 who 
are visually impaired, defined as difficulty or inability to see words 
and letters, only 43.7 percent are employed. Among individuals unable 
to see words and letters, the figure decreases to 30.6 percent. This 
proportion is significantly lower than the estimated 80 percent of 
persons without disabilities in this age group who are employed (based 
on 1994-1995 estimates: McNeil, 1997; personal communication, November 
16, 1996).
    NIDRR published a Long-Range Plan (The Plan) which is based on a 
paradigm for rehabilitation that identifies disability in terms of its 
relationship between the individual and the natural, built, cultural, 
and social environment (63 FR 57189-57219). The Plan focuses on both 
individual and systemic factors that have an impact on the ability of 
individuals with disabilities to function.
    In accord with this Plan, there is an ongoing need to maintain and 
improve successful employment and career outcomes for individuals who 
are blind or have visual impairments through vocational rehabilitation, 
community rehabilitation, postsecondary education, and independent 
living services for individuals who are blind or have visual 
impairments. Research and training activities under this RRTC must 
clearly focus on the vocational rehabilitation needs of adults, who, by 
definition, are the primary recipients of vocational rehabilitation 
services. Likewise, the thrust of the RRTC should focus on individuals 
who are blind or have severe visual impairment as opposed to those who 
have minimal vision loss.
    With the passage of legislation such as the Workforce Investment 
Act of 1998 (WIA) and the Work Incentive Improvement Act, the expertise 
of vocational rehabilitation agencies in developing community 
partnerships will play a role in establishing vocational rehabilitation 
as a major partner in the workforce development system and the one-stop 
centers. Vocational rehabilitation now collaborates with welfare to 
work programs, independent living centers, and colleges and technical 
schools. The influence of such collaboration upon vocational outcomes 
for individuals who are blind or have visual impairments remains 
unknown. Thus, there is a need to investigate and document the impact 
of any changes in disability and employment legislation on addressing 
the unique employment needs of individuals who are blind and have 
visual impairments. Research should identify barriers that hinder the 
participation of individuals who are blind or have visual impairments 
in these evolving systems and develop and document effective strategies 
to eliminate such barriers.
    Understanding the ongoing employment problems of individuals who 
are blind or have visual impairments has been hampered by the virtual 
absence of salient data such as work history, use of assistive 
techniques, transportation, and other environmental features. A subtle 
constraint is the tendency to ``over attribute'' problems to 
individuals' vision status without seriously examining the dynamics of 
vision loss in relation to other characteristics of the work they do or 
seek to do, and characteristics of their work settings. Thus, there is 
a serious need to identify and document salient demographic and 
employment-related characteristics associated with working-age adults 
who are blind or have visual impairments, including but not limited to 
highlighting differences among this group, as well as general 
differences between working-age adults with disabilities and working-
age adults without disabilities. Research that results in contemporary 
and accurate data on employment status and an improved understanding of 
employment issues is critically important to the development of a 
national agenda and strategies to achieve full employment for 
individuals who are blind or have visual impairments.
    New computer technologies and the growing trend toward home-based 
work appear to enhance especially the employment outcomes and earning 
potential of individuals with disabilities. New computer and 
information technologies place a premium on intellectual and 
interpersonal skills and offer solid employment opportunities for 
individuals with disabilities who remain current with the changing work 
environment. Efforts to support individuals who are blind or have 
visual impairments can be enhanced by using emerging technologies to 
improve access to services (particularly for individuals in remote 
areas), reduce information dissemination barriers, improve employment 
training and job opportunities, and facilitate improved training 
options for service providers. Research should be focused on 
determining how computer technology can be effectively used to improve 
the independence of individuals who are blind or visually impaired, 
identifying barriers that prevent access and expanded use of 
technology, and, increasing service provider knowledge of and 
experience with using technology to support rehabilitation service 
    Computer and information technology is changing rapidly. 
Rehabilitation professionals must have state-of-the-art knowledge of 
accessible computer and information technology for individuals who are 
blind or visually impaired. To address such a need, this RRTC will 
facilitate collaboration between the Rehabilitation Services 
Administration (RSA) and NIDRR to support the training of State 
vocational rehabilitation agency staff through use of a trainer model.
    Since 1936 the Randolph-Sheppard Act has been a source of 
employment for individuals who are blind. This program enables 
individuals who are blind to become licensed facility managers and 
operate vending facilities on Federal and State property.

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According to RSA, in fiscal year 1999, 2,809 blind vendors operated 
3,352 vending facilities under the Randolph-Sheppard Act Program. The 
program generated $448.1 million in gross earnings with individual 
vendors averaging an annual income of $32,544. The RRTC should 
undertake an assessment to identify areas of the program that may be 
improved by training Business Enterprise Program counselors and 
licensed managers. The training is intended to foster the acquisition 
of improved skills by counselors and licensed managers and increase the 
capacity of the Business Enterprise Program to be competitive with 
other vending facilities.


    We propose to establish a RRTC on improving vocational services for 
individuals who are blind or have visual impairments. In carrying out 
this purpose, the Center must:
    (a) Investigate and document the impact of changes in disability 
and employment legislation to address the unique employment-related 
needs of individuals who are blind or have visual impairments;
    (b) Investigate, document, and analyze existent State and Federal 
data sets (e.g., RSA 911 data, NCHS data sets on population health 
conditions, the national Independent Living Center survey and, the 
annual State-by-State VR agency data sets detailing performance 
outcomes), including client and service provider characteristics (e.g., 
age of onset of blindness or visual impairment relative to successful 
employment outcomes), to determine different employment outcomes for 
persons who are blind or have visual impairments;
    (c) Investigate and document how State vocational rehabilitation 
agencies, other public agencies, and private service providers overcome 
environmental barriers (e.g., using assistive technology and jobsite 
modifications) in order to improve employment outcomes for individuals 
who are blind or have visual impairments; and
    (d) Develop a national information and resource referral data base 
for the training needs of State business enterprise program facilities; 
develop and deliver training programs to meet the identified training 
needs; and develop measures that can be applied to evaluate the 
efficacy of the training.
    In carrying out the purposes of the priority, the RRTC must conduct 
at least three conferences to train vocational rehabilitation staff on 
state-of-the-art information and computer technology for individuals 
who are blind or have visual impairments.
    In addition to the activities proposed by the applicant to carry 
out these purposes, the RRTC must:
     Involve individuals who are blind or have visual 
impairments and, if appropriate, their representatives, in planning, 
developing, and implementing the research, training, dissemination and 
evaluation activities of the RRTC;
     Coordinate with appropriate Federally funded projects; and
     Identify coordination responsibilities through 
consultation with the assigned NIDRR Project Officer; these 
responsibilities may include outreach to specific NIDRR Disability and 
Rehabilitation Research Projects, Rehabilitation Engineering and 
Research Centers, RRTCs, Disability Business and Technical Assistance 
Centers, Assistive Technology projects, Office of Special Education 
programs, and RSA projects.

Proposed Priority 2: Vocational Rehabilitation Services for 
Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing


    According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 
approximately 8.6 percent of the national population experience hearing 
loss (Ries, Vital and Health Statistics, 10, 1995). Using population 
projections for the year 2000 and adjusting for the increase in 
prevalence of hearing loss due to aging, it is estimated that 
approximately 26.5 million persons experience hearing loss. Of these 
persons, 80 percent experience permanent, irreversible hearing damage 
(National Strategic Research Plan for Hearing and Hearing Impairment 
and Voice and Voice Disorders, National Institute on Deafness and 
Communicative Disorders, 1992). Furthermore, this population is quite 
heterogeneous, varying with respect to degree and type of hearing loss, 
age at onset, individual communication mode, level of personal or 
employment functionality and race or ethnic background. As a result, 
the population needs diverse vocational rehabilitation (VR) services.
    Degree of hearing loss functionally distinguishes persons who are 
hard of hearing and persons who are deaf. Persons identified as hard of 
hearing may understand conversational speech with or without 
amplification and are not primarily dependent on visual communication 
(Rehabilitation Services Administration, 1995). Estimates indicate 
there are more than 10.5 million hard of hearing individuals of working 
age. Persons who are deaf are primarily dependent upon visual 
communication such as writing, text reading (also known as CART or 
computer-aided real-time translation), speech reading, sign language, 
and sign language interpreting. This population includes persons who 
are born deaf as well as those who become deaf later in life.
    The age at which one becomes deaf strongly influences their 
language, academic and vocational development, and therefore figures 
prominently in that person's VR needs. Persons born deaf or who become 
deaf during early childhood are likely to need specialized services 
such as access to service providers who can communicate using American 
Sign Language or other visual-gesture languages and vocational 
assistance to enhance their employment prospects (Easterbrooks & Baker-
Hawkins, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Educational Service 
Guidelines, National Association of State Directors of Special 
Education). Estimates indicate that there are approximately 479,000 
deaf individuals of working age (18-64) who became deaf during early 
    Yet another category of individuals is those persons who become 
deaf after having experienced hearing as well as speech and language 
development. Members of this group may include people who have already 
completed substantial formal education, maintained a career, and 
generally functioned as a hearing person before being deafened. While 
these individuals already possess speech and language, they will be 
dependent primarily on visual receptive communication. Estimates 
indicate that there are approximately 2.8 million such individuals in 
the United States.
    The population of persons who are deaf also includes a subgroup 
identified largely on the basis of functional needs in addition to 
hearing loss. This group of deaf persons has been described as ``low 
functioning.'' (Serving Individuals Who Are Low Functioning Deaf, 25th 
Institute on Rehabilitation Issues, Rehabilitation Services 
Administration, 1999). Persons who are deaf and low functioning vary 
with respect to rehabilitation needs due to a diagnosed secondary 
disability or related academic, language, or behavioral factors. Those 
individuals may require rehabilitation assistance in areas such as 
communication, education, independent living skills, and a full 
continuum of employment preparation, entry, and ongoing supports. 
Estimates of the population indicate that there are approximately 
144,000 individuals of working age who are deaf and low

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functioning (25th Institute on Rehabilitation Issues, 1999).
    When provided appropriate and effective VR services, deaf 
individuals whose level of social and vocational function is severely 
limited can obtain and maintain employment (Conway, Work Place Issues, 
Career Opportunities, Advancement and Deafness, Volta Review, 1995). 
Often, however, a broad range of services are needed, and these 
services must be provided in an accessible manner that recognizes 
individual communication needs and preferences (Conway, 1995). Among 
the cases closed by State VR agencies were 17,863, or 72.9 percent 
closed as rehabilitated and 6,627, or 27.1 percent closed as non-
rehabilitated. Of the ``rehabilitated'' group closures, 77.4 percent 
were in competitive employment; 1.9 percent in extended employment, 2.6 
percent in self-employment and the balance in other employment sectors 
(RSA, Caseload Services data, 1996). Interestingly, close examination 
of closure rates for specific target groups indicate that deaf persons 
achieve employment at significantly lower percentages than their hard 
of hearing counterparts. Research is needed to address different 
services in order to obtain optimal outcomes. Despite this disparity in 
outcome, these data clearly document the role and contributions of the 
State and Federal VR system in providing services that lead to 
employment outcomes for significant numbers of individuals who are 
    Currently, the State and Federal VR system is undergoing 
significant change in response to conditions occurring in the labor 
market and the resulting need for workers. The labor force is 
characterized by economic growth, a low rate of unemployment, 
technological advances, and demand for jobs that require higher 
education and training. Plans to meet the State and local workforce 
needs of persons with disabilities, including persons who are deaf or 
hard of hearing, must be responsive to current thrusts in service 
delivery policy such as presumptive eligibility, continuing emphasis on 
order of selection, informed choice, one-stop service delivery, and 
increased demands for new approaches in training and personnel 
preparation (25th Institute on Rehabilitation Issues, 1999).
    It is clear that agencies will require significant technical 
assistance and resources in developing service models and approaches 
for serving special populations such as deaf and hard of hearing 
persons in response to these changes (Hopkins & Walter, 1999; PEPNet 
Needs Assessment: Summary of Findings, In Kolvitz, (Ed.), Empowerment 
through partnerships: PEPNet 1998; Boone & Watson, Identifying the 
Technical Assistance Needs of Community Based Rehabilitation Centers 
Serving Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, 1999). Research is 
needed to identify service delivery needs of persons who are deaf or 
hard of hearing and to develop interventions that result in 
satisfactory employment outcomes.
    There is a clear need for ongoing research to maintain and improve 
successful employment and career outcomes resulting from VR, community 
rehabilitation, postsecondary education, and independent living 
services for persons who are deaf (NIDRR Long-Range Plan, 63 FR 57189-
57219). Research under this competition must clearly focus on the VR 
needs of deaf individuals, including subgroups within this population 
with prevocational and post-vocational hearing loss, and those 
individuals identified as low functioning. There is need to examine 
decisionmaking processes as they impact upon deaf individuals and 
relevant others such as service providers, advocates, advisors, and 
family members, in relation to issues of access and participation by 
deaf and hard of hearing individuals in appropriate VR, postsecondary 
training, and independent living services. When such research analysis 
or mapping of decision processes and information sharing reveals 
problems, then appropriate resource development activities must be 
pursued, such as development of curriculum materials, training, 
evaluation, and technical assistance. In particular, strategies will be 
needed to involve new partners such as ``one-stops'' and centers for 
independent living, and underserved subgroups within the deaf and hard 
of hearing populations, such as those individuals described as low 
functioning and others with special needs. Research must investigate 
variables related to specific deafness and hard of hearing subgroups, 
services settings, measures of program participation, and measures of 
success within the changing policy, labor market, and service delivery 


    We propose to establish an RRTC on VR services for individuals who 
are deaf or hard of hearing that will conduct research and training 
activities and develop and evaluate model approaches to improve the 
employment outcomes for such individuals. In carrying out this purpose, 
the center must:
    (a) Investigate and document the impact of changes in disability 
and employment legislation (e.g., Workforce Investment Act of 1998, 
Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998) and service delivery options and 
policy (e.g., State and Federal VR, Community Rehabilitation Programs, 
One-Stop Centers, presumptive eligibility, order of selection, informed 
choice, CSPD) using formal research protocols on workforce 
participation and employment outcomes achieved by persons who are deaf 
or hard of hearing (including those identified as low functioning) and 
considering such factors as age, gender, race or ethnic background, 
education, severity of impairment, and secondary disability;
    (b) Identify, evaluate, and document contemporary business policies 
and practices that contribute to accessible work, workplace supports, 
and environments to enhance the employment of persons who are deaf or 
hard of hearing;
    (c) Identify, develop, and measure the impact of innovative 
rehabilitation practices, resource materials, post-secondary training, 
and technology (for State and Federal VR, Independent Living, and 
Community-based Rehabilitation Programs) that will enhance the 
workforce participation, employment, and community living outcomes 
achieved by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing; and
    (d) Develop and disseminate resources through a national technical 
assistance, information and referral network for consumers who are deaf 
or hard of hearing (including those referred to as low functioning 
deaf), their employers, advocates, family members, and rehabilitation 
service providers.
    In carrying out these purposes, the center must:
     Coordinate the activities of this Center with the efforts 
of grantees from NIDRR, the Office of Special Education Programs 
(OSEP), or RSA who are involved in postsecondary training, transition, 
job-related or vocational and career studies, independent living needs, 
and aspects of rehabilitation technology addressing the needs of 
persons who are deaf, particularly those referred to as low functioning 
     Solicit, maximize, and utilize direct input from persons 
who are deaf, their service providers, and their employers as part of 
the ongoing planning, development, and implementation of the Center's 
research activities;
     Construct scientific and measurable techniques for each 
research project;
     Provide dissemination to rehabilitation professionals, 
through training and technical assistance of new

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and effective rehabilitation techniques and practices that may enhance 
service delivery, quality employment, and community integration 
findings; and
     Develop sources for supplementary funding that will permit 
the Center more latitude in exploring additional related studies, in 
addition to the Federal monies available from this RRTC grant.
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 350.

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764(b)(2).

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(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number: 84.133B, 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers Program)

    Dated: April 19, 2001.
Francis V. Corrigan,
Deputy Director, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation, 
[FR Doc. 01-10196 Filed 4-24-01; 8:45 am]