FR Doc 04-4402
[Federal Register: February 27, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 39)]
[Page 9307-9310]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []
Download: PDF Version



RIN 1820 ZA33

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research--
Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program--
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers

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

ACTION: Notice of proposed priority.


SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services proposes funding a priority under the 
Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program--
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) program for up to 
three RERCs under the National Institute on Disability and 
Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) for fiscal year (FY) 2004 and later 
years. 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 March 29, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Address all comments about this proposed priority to Donna 
Nangle, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 
3412, Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-2645. If you prefer to 
send your comments through the Internet, use the following address:

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle. Telephone: (202) 205-
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), you may 
call the TDD number at (202) 205-4475 or via Internet:

    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 under FOR FURTHER 


Invitation to Comment

    We invite you to submit comments regarding this proposed priority. 
To ensure that your comments have maximum effect in developing the 
notice of final priority, we urge you to identify clearly the specific 
proposed topic that each comment addresses.
    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 3412, Switzer Building, 330 C 
Street SW., Washington, DC, between the hours of 8:30 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 

    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, please contact the person listed 
    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 effect of each type of 
priority follows:

    Absolute priority: Under an absolute priority, we consider only 
applications that meet the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(3)).
    Competitive preference priority: Under a competitive preference 
priority, we give competitive preference to an application by either 
(1) awarding additional points, depending on how well or the extent to 
which the application meets the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(i)); or 
(2) selecting an application that meets the competitive priority over 
an application of comparable merit that does not meet the competitive 
priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(ii)).
    Invitational priority: Under an invitational priority, we are 
particularly interested in applications that meet the invitational 
priority. However, we do not give an application that meets the 
priority a competitive or absolute preference over other applications 
(34 CFR 75.105(c)(1)).

    Note: NIDRR supports the goals of President Bush's New Freedom 
Initiative (NFI). The NFI can be accessed on the Internet at the 
following site:

    The proposed priority is in concert with NIDRR's Long-Range Plan 
(Plan). The Plan is comprehensive and

[[Page 9308]]

integrates many issues relating to disability and rehabilitation 
research topics. While applicants will find many sections throughout 
the Plan that support potential research to be conducted under this 
proposed priority, a specific reference is included for each topic 
presented in this notice. The Plan can be accessed on the Internet at 
the following site:

    Through the implementation of the NFI and the Plan, NIDRR seeks to: 
(1) Improve the quality and utility of disability and rehabilitation 
research; (2) foster an exchange of expertise, information, and 
training to facilitate the advancement of knowledge and understanding 
of the unique needs of traditionally underserved populations; (3) 
determine best strategies and programs to improve rehabilitation 
outcomes for underserved populations; (4) identify research gaps; (5) 
identify mechanisms of integrating research and practice; and (6) 
disseminate findings.

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers Program

    Under the RERC 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. Each RERC must be operated by or in collaboration with an 
institution of higher education or a nonprofit organization. Additional 
information on the RERC program can be found at:

General Requirements of Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers

    RERCs shall carry out research or demonstration activities in 
support of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, by:
     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 and evaluate new or 
emerging technologies, products, or environments and their 
effectiveness and benefits;
     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;
     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 independence needs of individuals 
with severe disabilities; and
     Each RERC must provide training opportunities, 
in conjunction with institutions of higher education and nonprofit 
organizations, to assist individuals, including individuals with 
disabilities, to become rehabilitation technology researchers and 
    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. During the funding cycle of 
any RERC, NIDRR will conduct one or more reviews of the activities and 
achievements of the RERC. In accordance with the provisions of 34 CFR 
75.253(a), continued funding depends at all times on satisfactory 
performance and accomplishment.



    Technology plays a vital role in the lives of millions of disabled 
and older Americans. Advances in assistive technology and adoption of 
principles of universal design have significantly improved the quality 
of life for these individuals. Individuals with significant 
disabilities regularly use products developed as the result of 
rehabilitation and biomedical research to achieve and maintain maximum 
physical function, to live independently, to study and learn, and to 
attain gainful employment. The range of engineering research has 
broadened to encompass not only assistive technology but also 
technology at the systems level (i.e., the built environment, 
information and communication technologies, transportation, etc.) and 
technology that interfaces between the individual and systems 
technology and is basic to community integration.
    The NIDRR RERC program has been a major force in the development of 
technology to enhance independent function for individuals with 
disabilities. The RERCs are recognized as national centers of 
excellence in their respective areas and collectively represent the 
largest federally supported program responsible for advancing 
rehabilitation engineering research. For example, the RERC program was 
an early pioneer in the development of augmentative communication and 
has been at the forefront of prosthetics and orthotics research for 
both children and adults. RERCs have played a major role in the 
development of voluntary standards that industry uses when developing 
wheelchairs, wheelchair restraint systems, information technologies, 
and the World Wide Web. The RERC on Low Vision and Blindness helped 
develop talking sign technologies that are currently being utilized in 
major cities in both the United States and Japan to help blind and 
visually impaired individuals navigate city streets and subways. RERCs 
have been a driving force in the development of universal design 
principles that can be applied to the built environment, information 
technology and telecommunications, transportation, and consumer 
products. RERC research activities also contributed to the clinical use 
of electromyography, gait analysis, and functional electrical 
    Advancements in basic biomedical science and technology have 
resulted in new opportunities to enhance further the lives of people 
with disabilities. Recent advances in biomaterials research, composite 
technologies, information and telecommunication technologies, 
nanotechnologies, micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS), sensor 
technologies, and the neurosciences provide a wealth of opportunities 
for individuals with disabilities and should be incorporated into 
research focused on disability and rehabilitation.
    NIDRR intends to fund up to three new RERCs in FY 2004. Applicants 
must select one of the following priority topic areas: (a) Universal 
Design and the Built Environment; (b) Telecommunications Access; (c) 
Telerehabilitation; and (d) Cognitive Technologies. Applicants are 
allowed to submit more than one proposal as long as each proposal 
addresses only one RERC topic area.

Proposed Priority

    The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative 
Services proposes to fund up to three RERCs that

[[Page 9309]]

will focus on innovative technological solutions, new knowledge, and 
concepts to promote the health, safety, independence, active engagement 
in daily activities, and quality of life of persons with disabilities. 
Under each of the priority topics the RERC must:
    (1) Contribute substantially to the technical and scientific 
knowledge-base relevant to its respective subject area;
    (2) Research, develop, and evaluate innovative technologies, 
products, environments, performance guidelines, and monitoring and 
assessment tools as applicable to its respective subject area;
    (3) Identify, implement, and evaluate, in collaboration with the 
relevant industry, professional associations, and institutions of 
higher education, innovative approaches to expand research capacity in 
its respective field of study;
    (4) Monitor trends and evolving product concepts that represent and 
signify future directions for technologies in its respective area of 
research; and
    (5) Provide technical assistance to public and private 
organizations responsible for developing policies, guidelines, and 
standards that affect its respective area of research.
    In addition, the following requirements apply to each RERC topic 
     Each RERC must have the capability to design, 
build, and test prototype devices and assist in the transfer of 
successful solutions to relevant production and service delivery 
settings. Each RERC must evaluate the efficacy and safety of its new 
products, instrumentation, or assistive devices.
     Each RERC must develop and implement in the 
first three months of the grant a plan that describes how the center 
will include, as appropriate, individuals with disabilities or their 
representatives in all phases of center activities including research, 
development, training, dissemination, and evaluation;
     Each RERC must develop and implement in the 
first year of the grant, 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 persons with disabilities, 
their representatives, disability organizations, service providers, 
professional journals, manufacturers, and other interested parties.
     Each RERC must develop and implement in the 
first year of the grant, in consultation with the NIDRR-funded RERC on 
Technology Transfer, a plan for ensuring that all new and improved 
technologies developed by this RERC are successfully transferred to the 
     Each RERC must conduct a state-of-the-science 
conference on its respective area of research 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.
     Each RERC must coordinate with research projects 
of mutual interest with relevant NIDRR-funded projects as identified 
through consultation with the NIDRR project officer.
    Each RERC must focus on one of the following priority topic areas:
    (a) Universal Design and the Built Environment: This RERC must 
research, develop and evaluate strategies and devices that will advance 
the field of universal design and assist designers, builders and 
manufacturers with incorporating universal design in their products and 
buildings. This RERC also must research, develop and evaluate methods 
and strategies that improve upon and expand current anthropometric data 
collection practices and databases, both static and dynamic 
(functional), pertaining to persons with disabilities. The reference 
for this topic can be found in the Plan, chapter 5, Technology for 
Access and Function: Systems Technology: Universal Design and 
    (b) Telecommunications Access: This RERC must research and develop 
technological solutions to promote universal access to 
telecommunications systems and products including strategies for 
integrating current accessibility features into newer generations of 
telecommunications systems and products. This RERC also will be 
expected to provide technical assistance to public and private 
organizations, persons with disabilities, and employers on policies, 
guidelines, and standards that affect the accessibility of 
telecommunications technology products and systems as well as persons 
with disabilities and employers. The reference for this topic can be 
found in the Plan, chapter 5, Technology for Access and Function: 
Research to Improve Accessibility of Telecommunications and Information 
    (c) Telerehabilitation: This RERC must research and develop 
methods, systems, and technologies that support remote delivery of 
rehabilitation and home health care services for individuals who have 
limited local access to comprehensive medical and rehabilitation 
outpatient services. The reference for this topic can be found in the 
Plan, chapter 5, Technology for Access and Function: Research to 
Improve Accessibility of Telecommunications and Information Technology.
    (d) Cognitive Technologies: This RERC must research, develop, and 
evaluate innovative technologies and approaches that will improve the 
ability of individuals with significant cognitive disabilities to 
function independently within their communities and workplace. The 
reference for this topic can be found in the Plan, chapter 5, 
Technology for Access and Function: Research on Technology to Enhance 
Cognitive Function.

Executive Order 12866

    This notice of proposed priority has been reviewed in accordance 
with Executive Order 12866. Under the terms of the order, we have 
assessed the potential costs and benefits of this regulatory action.
    The potential costs associated with the notice of proposed priority 
are those resulting from statutory requirements and those we have 
determined as necessary for administering this program effectively and 
    In assessing the potential costs and benefits--both quantitative 
and qualitative--of this notice of proposed priority, we have 
determined that the benefits of the proposed priority justify the 
    Summary of potential costs and benefits: The potential costs 
associated with this proposed priority are minimal while the benefits 
are significant. Grantees may anticipate costs associated with 
completing the application process in terms of staff time, copying, and 
mailing or delivery. The use of e-Application technology reduces 
mailing and copying costs significantly.
    The benefits of the RERC Program have been well established over 
the years. Similar projects have generated new knowledge and 
    The benefit of this proposed priority will be the establishment of 
new RERCs, which can be expected to develop technological solutions 
that will improve the lives of persons with disabilities and to 
contribute substantially to the technical and scientific knowledge-base 
in the proposed topic areas.
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 350.

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:

[[Page 9310]]

    To use PDF you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available 
free at this 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 the document 
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:

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

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764(b)(3).

    Dated: February 24, 2004.
Troy R. Justesen,
Acting Deputy Assistant, Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 04-4402 Filed 2-26-04; 8:45 am]