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National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research

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


Notice of proposed priorities.


The Assistant Secretary proposes funding priorities under the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) program for up to nine Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers under the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) for Fiscal Years (FYs) 2003-2005. 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.


We must receive your comments on or before February 10, 2003.


Address all comments about these proposed priorities 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:

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Donna Nangle. Telephone: (202) 205-5880.

If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), you may call the TDD number at (202) 205-4475 or via the 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 INFORMATION CONTACT.

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Invitation to Comment: We invite you to submit comments regarding these proposed priorities.

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 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 holidays.

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 these proposed priorities. If you want to schedule an appointment for this type of aid, please contact the person listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.

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 requirements.


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 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)).


The proposed priorities support President Bush's New Freedom Initiative (NFI). The NFI can be accessed on the Internet at the following site:​news/​freedominitiative/​freedominitiative.html.

The proposed priorities are also in concert with NIDRR's Long-Range Plan, which can be accessed on the Internet at the following site:​offices/​OSERS/​NIDRR/​#LRP.

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 Start Printed Page 1446training 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.

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 and evaluate new or emerging technologies, products, or environments and their effectiveness and benefits; or

(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 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.

General RERC Requirements

The following requirements apply to each RERC pursuant to these absolute priorities unless noted otherwise. An applicant's proposal to fulfill these requirements will be assessed using applicable selection criteria in the peer review process.

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 or other entities as appropriate, 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 will be expected to coordinate on research projects of mutual interest with relevant NIDRR-funded projects as identified through consultation with the NIDRR project officer.



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, 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 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 stimulation.

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 nine new RERCs in FY 2003. Applicants must select one of the following priority topic areas: (a) Hearing enhancement; (b) prosthetics and orthotics; (c) communication enhancement; (d) measurement and monitoring of functional performance; (e) technology access for land mine survivors; (f) universal interface and information technologies; (g) telerehabilitation; (h) accessible public transportation; (i) wheeled mobility; (j) cognitive technologies; and (k) technology Start Printed Page 1447transfer. Applicants are allowed to submit more than one proposal as long as each proposal addresses only one RERC topic area.

Letters of Intent

Due to the open nature of this competition, NIDRR is requiring all potential applicants to submit a letter of intent (LOI). Each LOI must be limited to a maximum of four pages and must include the following information: (1) The title of the proposed RERC, the name of the host institution, the name of the Principal Investigator (PI), and the names of partner institutions and entities; (2) a brief statement of the vision, goals and objectives of the proposed RERC and a description of its research and development activities at a sufficient level of detail to allow potential peer reviewers to be selected; (3) a list of proposed RERC staff including the center Director and key personnel; and (4) a list of individuals whose selection as a peer reviewer might constitute a conflict of interest due to involvement in proposal development, selection as an advisory board member, co-PI relationships, etc.

The signed, original LOI must be received by NIDRR no later than four weeks after the notice of final funding priorities for this competition is published in the Federal Register. Submission of a LOI is a prerequisite for eligibility to submit an application. With prior approval, an email or facsimile copy of a LOI will be accepted, but the signed original must be sent to: William Peterson, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 3425, Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-2645. For further information regarding the LOI requirement, contact William Peterson at (202) 205-9192 or by email at:

Proposed Priorities

The Assistant Secretary proposes to fund up to nine RERCs that will focus on innovative technological solutions, new knowledge, and concepts to promote the health, safety, independence, employment, active engagement in daily activities, and quality of life of persons with disabilities. Each 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.

(6) Each RERC must focus on one of the following priority topic areas:

(a) Hearing Enhancement: This center must research and develop methods, systems, and technologies that will assist hearing professionals with the process of matching hearing technology to individuals with hearing loss and associated conditions such as tinnitus. This includes improving the compatibility of hearing enhancement technologies with various environments such as school, work, recreation, and social settings;

(b) Prosthetics and Orthotics: This center must increase understanding of the scientific and engineering principles pertaining to human locomotion, reaching, grasping, and manipulation, and incorporate those principles into the design and fitting of prosthetic and orthotic devices;

(c) Communication Enhancement: This center must research and develop augmentative and alternative communication technologies and strategies that will enhance the communicative capacity of individuals of all ages with significant communication disorders across environments (i.e., education, employment, recreation, social);

(d) Measurement and Monitoring of Functional Performance: This center must research and develop technologies and methods that effectively assess the outcomes of rehabilitation therapies by combining measurements of physiological performance with measures of functional performance;

(e) Technology Access for Land Mine Survivors: This center must address the unique rehabilitation needs of land mine survivors of all ages and develop low-cost replacement limbs, orthotics, and assistive technologies using indigenous materials and expertise from respective countries that will benefit the quality of life for individuals who have been severely injured due to land mine explosions;

(f) Universal Interface and Information Technologies: This center must research and develop innovative technological solutions for, and promote universal access to, current and emerging information technologies and technology interfaces that promote a seamless integration of the multiple technologies used by individuals with disabilities in the home, the community, and the workplace. This center must work collaboratively with the RERC on Telecommunication Access, the RERC on Mobile Wireless Technologies, and the NIDRR-funded Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center;

(g) Telerehabilitation: This center 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;

(h) Accessible Public Transportation: This center must research and develop methods, systems, and devices that will promote and enhance the ability of people with disabilities to safely, comfortably, and efficiently identify destination information, embark/disembark, and use restroom facilities on various types of public transportation systems such as passenger trains and airplanes;

(i) Wheeled Mobility: This center must research and develop innovative technologies and strategies that will improve the current state of the science, design standards, and usability of wheeled mobility devices and wheelchair seating systems;

(j) Cognitive Technologies: This center must research, develop, and evaluate innovative technologies and approaches that will have a positive impact on the way in which individuals with significant cognitive disabilities function independently within their communities and workplace; and

(k) Technology Transfer: This center must research and develop innovative ways to facilitate and improve the process of moving new, useful, and more effective assistive technology inventions and applications from the prototype phase to the marketplace. This center will be expected to provide technical assistance to all RERCs on issues pertaining to technology transfer, including the development of long-range technology transfer plans.

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 Start Printed Page 1448at the following site:​legislation/​FedRegister.

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.


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:​nara/​index.html.

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

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

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Dated: January 6, 2003.

Robert H. Pasternack,

Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

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[FR Doc. 03-529 Filed 1-9-03; 8:45 am]