FR Doc 04-26168
[Federal Register: November 26, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 227)]
[Page 68890-68893]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []
Download: PDF Version


RIN 1820 ZA40

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 priorities.


SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services proposes three funding priorities for the 
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research's (NIDRR) 
Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program, 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) program. Each of 
these priorities may be used for competitions in fiscal year (FY) 2005 
and later years. We take this action to focus research attention on 
areas of national need. We intend these priorities to improve 
rehabilitation services and outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

DATES: We must receive your comments on or before December 27, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Address all comments about these proposed priorities to 
Donna Nangle, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., 
room 6030, Potomac Center Plaza, Washington, DC 20204-2700. If you 
prefer to send your comments through the Internet, use the following 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle. Telephone: (202) 245-
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), you may 
call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 
between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., eastern time, Monday through Friday.
    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 these proposed 
priorities. To

[[Page 68891]]

ensure that your comments have maximum effect in developing the notice 
of final priorities, we urge you to identify clearly the specific 
proposed priority 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 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 6030, 550 12th Street SW., 
Potomac Center Plaza, Washington, DC, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. 
and 4 p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday of each week except 
Federal holidays.

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 these proposed priorities. If you want to 
schedule an appointment for this type of aid, please contact the person 
    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 one or more of 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 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 priorities are in concert with NIDRR's Long-Range Plan 
(Plan). The Plan is comprehensive and 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 the proposed priorities, a specific reference is 
included for each of the priorities 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

    We may make awards under this program 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; or
     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
     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.
    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 practitioners.
    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

[[Page 68892]]

maintain maximum physical function, live independently, study and 
learn, and 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 used 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.

Proposed Priorities

    The Assistant Secretary proposes to fund RERCs, each of which must 
focus on one of the following priorities: (a) Technologies for Children 
with Orthopedic Disabilities, (b) Low Vision and Blindness, or (c) 
Universal Design and the Built Environment.
    (a) Technologies for Children with Orthopedic Disabilities: This 
RERC must research and develop technologies that will help children 
with orthopedic disabilities overcome functional deficits and that will 
support their ability to learn, play, and interact socially. The 
reference for this topic can be found in the Plan, chapter 5, 
Technology for Access and Function: Research to Enhance Mobility, and 
Research to Improve Manipulation Ability.
    (b) Low Vision and Blindness: This RERC must research and develop 
technologies that will improve assessment of vision impairments and 
promote independence for individuals with low vision and blindness, 
including those who are deaf/blind. The reference for this topic can be 
found in the Plan, chapter 5, Technology for Access and Function: 
Research to Improve or Substitute for Sensory Functioning.
    (c) 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. The reference for this topic can be found in the Plan, 
chapter 5, Technology for Access and Function: Systems Technology: 
Universal Design and Accessibility.
    Under any one of these priorities, RERCs must 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. Accordingly, each 
RERC must:
    (1) Contribute substantially to the technical and scientific 
knowledge-base relevant to the priority;
    (2) Research, develop, and evaluate innovative technologies, 
products, environments, performance guidelines, and monitoring and 
assessment tools as applicable to the priority;
    (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 
the specific field of study;
    (4) Monitor trends and evolving product concepts that represent and 
signify future directions for technologies in the specific area of 
research; and
    (5) Provide technical assistance to public and private 
organizations responsible for developing policies, guidelines, and 
standards that affect the specific area of research.
    In addition, the following requirements apply to each RERC 
     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 RERC will include, 
as appropriate, individuals with disabilities or their representatives 
in all phases of its activities including research, development, 
training, dissemination, and evaluation;
     Each RERC must 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 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 and 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 marketplace.
     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.

Executive Order 12866

    This notice of proposed priorities 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 
priorities are those resulting from statutory requirements and those we 

[[Page 68893]]

determined as necessary for administering this program effectively and 
efficiently. In assessing the potential costs and benefits--both 
quantitative and qualitative--of this notice of proposed priorities, we 
have determined that the benefits of the proposed priorities justify 
the costs.

Summary of Potential Costs and Benefits

    The potential costs associated with these proposed priorities 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 in that similar projects have been completed successfully. 
These proposed priorities will generate new knowledge and technologies 
through research, development, dissemination, utilization, and 
technical assistance projects.
    The benefit of these priorities also will be the establishment of 
new RERCs that support the President's NFI and will improve the lives 
of persons with disabilities. The new RERCs will generate, disseminate, 
and promote the use of new information that will improve the options 
for individuals with disabilities to perform regular activities in the 
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 350.

Electronic Access to This Document

    You may review 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:

    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: November 22, 2004.
Troy R. Justesen,
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 04-26168 Filed 11-24-04; 8:45 am]