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National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)

So You Want To Apply for a NIDILRR Grant? Here Are the Basics

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Understanding NIDILRR Programs

NIDILRR’s mission is to generate new knowledge and promote its effective use to improve the abilities of people with disabilities to perform activities of their choice in the community, and also to expand society’s capacity to provide full opportunities and accommodations for its citizens with disabilities.

NIDILRR accomplishes its mission largely through grants with institutions of higher education, profit making and non-profit organizations and other agencies and organizations. However, individuals are eligible for the Switzer Research Fellowship program.

Grants are awarded through eight programs or primary funding mechanisms as described below. Use the links below to read a brief descriptions of the programs or funding mechanisms of interest to you. Alternatively, you can view the number of NIDILRR Grants by Funding Status in Each Program/Funding Mechanism.

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How to Apply

The basic steps of applying include:

These basic steps are described below. We have included a separate section on writing a successful application.

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Understanding and Using Grant-Related Notices

NIDILRR publishes a variety of notices regarding potential and open grant competitions. Understanding each will help you prepare for and write grant applications:

Funding Opportunities

Not all grant areas are funded every year, so it is important to check regularly to see which areas are likely to be competed in a given year and the dates of the competitions. The National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) offers a service that will automatically send you an email within a few days of publication of any NIDILRR-related priority notice or Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). You may sign up for this service by going to the following NARIC page About NIDILRR Funding and Other Grant Resources. Once there, scroll to the middle of the page and locate the heading, Interested in NIDILRR Grant Announcements? Then enter your email address in the white text box and hit Submit.

Alternatively, NIDILRR is now posting both forecasted and current grant announcements at Grants.gov. Search for NIDILRR grant opportunities on Grants.gov (and bookmark the link for future use). The results can be sorted by opportunity number, title, status, posted date, and close date. Click the column headers to sort. To view a grant opportunity, click the Opportunity Number to see the full record.

Funding Opportunity Announcements

All NIDILRR grant opportunities are announced through Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA). In some grant areas, the subject matter rarely changes from year to year. Examples of these competitions are the Switzer Fellowship Program, the Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training Program, Field Initiated Projects and Small Business Innovation Research. In such cases, the opportunity is announced directly through the FOA.

However, subject matter in some of our grant areas changes regularly. This may be true in the DRRP, Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers and Rehabilitation Research and Engineering Centers programs. Before the subject matter, or "priority," of a competition is finalized, NIDILRR often publishes its proposed priority and gives the public time to comment upon it, usually 30 days. In addition to allowing the public to make comments, it provides potential applicants a "heads up" as to a priority that is likely to be used for a grant competition. The final priority is published after reviewing comments, and making changes, if necessary, through the FOA. Only applications that respond to the priority will be considered for funding.

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Completing Registrations

Complete registrations early. The first step for a new applicant is to obtain certain account numbers and complete registrations—specifically, a DUNS number, a TIN and a SAM, along with registering with Grants.gov.

DUNS Number

A DUNS number is a unique identifier necessary to apply for any government grant or contract. You can obtain a DUNS number free of charge from Dun and Bradstreet. A DUNS number can be created within one business day. Individuals applying for the Switzer Fellowship Program may use their social security number in lieu of the DUNs number. This registration must be maintained annually throughout the life of an award.

TIN Number

If you are a corporate entity, agency, institution or organization, you must have a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), which can be obtained free of charge from the Internal Revenue Service. If you need a new TIN, please allow 2–5 weeks for your TIN to become active. Individuals applying for the Switzer Fellowship Program may use their social security number in lieu of the TIN.

SAM Registration

The System for Awards Management (SAM.gov) is the primary vendor database for the U.S. Federal Government. SAM collects, validates, stores and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition missions. You must register with the System for Awards Management, or SAM if you wish to apply for a Federal grant or contract. The SAM registration process may take five or more business days to complete. If you are currently registered with SAM, you may not need to make any changes. However, make certain that the TIN associated with your DUNS number is correct. Also note that you will need to update your SAM registration on an annual basis. This may take three or more business days to complete.

Grants.gov Registration

Finally, you must register with Grants.gov, which will allow you to use and upload an application into the application system. This registration may take five or more business days to complete. You may begin working on your application while completing the registration process, but you cannot submit an application until all of the Registration steps are complete. Find detailed information on the Registration Steps.

When you submit an application via Grants.gov you must (1) be designated by your organization as an Authorized Organizational Representative (AOP); and (2) register yourself with Grants.gov as an AOR. Details on these steps are outlined on Grants.gov Register page.

For assistance, please contact Grants.gov by email at support@grants.gov, or call 800-518-4726 from 7:00 am–9:00 pm ET.

At the Grants.gov, you will find information about submitting an application electronically through the site, including the Help Desk hours of operation. ACL strongly recommends that you not wait until the application due date to begin the application process through Grants.gov because of the time involved to complete the registration process.

We can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of completing these registrations early.

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Writing and Submitting Your Grant Application

If you wish to apply for a NIDILRR grant, identify an appropriate grant competition. Not all grant areas are funded every year, so it is important to determine which areas are likely to be competed in a given year and the dates of the competitions.

Find information and links to FOAs at Grants.gov (which announce the opening of grant competitions), as described above.

Once you locate a competition in which you are interested, you can begin writing your application. See the section below on writing a successful application for tips.

Submit Early! We strongly recommend that you do not wait until the last day to submit your application. Grants.gov will put a date/time stamp on your application and then process it after it is fully uploaded. The time indicated on this stamp represents your official submission time. Be aware that the time it takes to upload an application will vary depending on a number of factors including the size of the application and the speed of your Internet connection, and the time it takes Grants.gov to process the application will vary as well.

If Grants.gov rejects your application, you will need to resubmit successfully before 4:30 pm ET on the deadline date. We recommend submitting applications the day before the deadline. That way, if there are problems, you will have time to correct them.

Tip: To submit successfully, you must provide the DUNS number on your application that was used when you registered for Grants.gov. This DUNS number is typically the same number used when your organization registered with SAM (System for Award Management). If you do not enter the same DUNS number on your application as the DUNS you registered with, Grants.gov will reject your application.

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Verifying Receipts

You will want to verify that Grants.gov and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living received your Grants.gov submission on time and that it was validated successfully. To see the date/time your application was received, follow the instructions on Grants.gov’s Track My Application page. For a successful submission, the date/time received should be earlier than 11:59 pm ET on the deadline date, and the application status should be: Validated as “Received by Agency,” or “Agency Tracking Number Assigned.”

If the date/time received through Grants.gov is later than 11:59 pm ET on the deadline date, your application is late. If your application has a status of “Received” it is still awaiting validation by Grants.gov. Once validation is complete, the status will either change to “Validated” or “Rejected with Errors.” If the status is “Rejected with Errors,” your application has not been received successfully.

Some of the reasons Grants.gov may reject an application can be found on the Grants.gov FAQ page. Sometimes the problem relates to an Adobe Reader error. For more detailed information on troubleshooting this type of error, you can review the Encountering Error Messages page. If you discover your application is late or has been rejected, please see the instructions at Grants.gov. Note: You will receive a series of confirmations both online at Grants.gov and via email about the status of your application. Please do not rely solely on email to confirm whether your application has been received timely and validated successfully.

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Writing a Successful Grant Application

Writing a successful grant application can be challenging, especially for a new applicant. Below are some helpful tips for new applicants:

Understand and take advantage of the information in announcement of proposed priorities and FOAs. Understanding our grant process can give you a head start on grant applications. Many of our grant competitions (especially the DRRPs, RRTCs, RERCs) begin with an announcement of proposed priority. This announcement gives our intention to call for grant proposals on a particular priority and invites comments on that priority. At this point in time, the grant competition is not open. While there is no guarantee that we will actually conduct a grant competition on that topic, the fact is that we do in most cases. This should give you, as a potential applicant, a heads up. Use this time to begin planning your application.

After we have received and analyzed comments on the proposed priority, we issue an FOA that announces our final priority, based upon an analysis of the comments, and opens the competition. This document indicates when NIDILRR will accept applications on that topic, the deadlines, award limits and other key information for that specific grant competition. It will also include information on how to obtain the application kit, usually on the Web. It is important to read the FOA and application kit carefully as it includes important information not only on the subject matter, but on matters such as deadlines and page limits—applications are rejected for not attending to such details.

Keep the peer reviewer in mind. NIDILRR bases its funding decisions primarily upon the scores of peer reviewers—non-federal subject matter specialists who review each application. An applicant wins a grant award by scoring the most points. Read the peer review criteria carefully. These are clearly stated in the application package. As you write your proposal, think like a peer reviewer—ask yourself, "How would I score this section if I were a peer reviewer?" How could I make it easier for the peer reviewer to rate my application and award more points?" If you do not address the priority and selection criteria convincingly, peer reviewers will award fewer points. Also, express your ideas clearly. A peer reviewer must be able to discern the main ideas of your proposal.

Write clearly and convincingly. Be simple, direct, and clear in your writing. A lucid, compelling proposal will score more points than a poorly written proposal. Make the application exciting. Use of active voice will help. Ask yourself how your proposal will advance the science on this topic—what impact will it have? To help, we suggest you ask colleagues to review and rate you proposal as mock peer reviewers prior to submitting it to NIDILRR.

Address peer reviewer comments. Address peer reviewer comments: If you are rejected on your first submission to our competitions, study the peer reviewer comments carefully. Even if you think you addressed a particular concern, you probably didn’t make the point clearly enough if peer reviewers commented on it. Peer reviewer comments are some of the most important input you can use for improving your application. When a new competition on the same topic is announced, address the comments within the body of a new application narrative.

Serve as peer reviewer. One of the best ways to understand the peer review process is to serve as a peer reviewer. Read the general overview of what to expect if you decide to become a peer reviewer for NIDILRR.

Apply to serve as a NIDILRR peer reviewer by submitting a request and resume by email to NIDILRR-Mailbox@acl.hhs.gov. While serving on a NIDILRR review panel may be your best learning experience for writing NIDILRR proposals, serving on peer review panels for other agencies, foundations or professional publications is also a good experience.

Talk to NIDILRR. A discussion with NIDILRR staff can provide insight on what it takes to write a successful application. However, please realize that staff are limited in what they can share about a specific competition once it opens. It is better to call before a competition opens. Call Raina McDowell, the NIDILRR administrative assistant, at 202-795-7398, and she will connect you to the most appropriate NIDILRR staff person to discuss your ideas or how to apply.

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Last Modified: 1/30/2017