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

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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: donna.nangle@ed.gov.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

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 Internet: donna.nangle@ed.gov.

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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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

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 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 this proposed priority. 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 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 requirements.

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: http://www.whitehouse.gov/​news/​freedominitiative/​freedominitiative.html.

The proposed priority is in concert with NIDRR's Long-Range Plan (Plan). The Plan is comprehensive and Start Printed Page 9308integrates 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: http://www.ed.gov/​rschstat/​research/​pubs/​index.html.

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: http://www.ed.gov/​rschstat/​research/​pubs/​RERC.

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 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.

Priority

Background

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 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 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 Start Printed Page 9309will 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 area:

  • 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 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.

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 Accessibility

(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 Technology.

(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 efficiently.

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 costs.

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 technologies.

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: http://www.ed.gov/​news/​fedregister.

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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: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/​nara/​index.html.

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

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

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Dated: February 24, 2004.

Troy R. Justesen,

Acting Deputy Assistant, Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

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[FR Doc. 04-4402 Filed 2-26-04; 8:45 am]

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