Foreign entities are not eligible to compete for, or receive, awards made under this announcement. Faith-based and community organizations that meet the eligibility requirements are eligible to receive awards under this funding opportunity announcement.
Survey estimates of the number of people with low vision and blindness vary based on survey definitions and question wording. More than 7,500,000 people in the United States report having a visual disability. This includes more than 6,700,000 adults (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2021). This number and percentage of American adults with a visual disability is expected to rise as the prevalence of age-related causes of low vision and blindness such as macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and primary open-angle glaucoma rise with the aging of the population (Doyle & Sterns, 2019). There are approximately 55,000 U.S. children, youth, and adult students in educational settings who are legally blind (American Printing House for the Blind, 2019). In addition, about 694,000 children and young adults aged 4 through 20 report a visual disability and approximately 80,200 children ages four and under have a reported visual disability (Erickson, Lee, & von Schrader, 2021). As increasing numbers of premature infants survive due to advances in modern medicine and technology (Glass, et al., 2015; Romanis, 2018) the number of infants, children, and young adults with low vision and blindness is expected to increase. There is also a growing prevalence of deaf-blind people in the U.S. (National Center on Deaf-Blindness, 2020).
Because people who are blind or have low vision cannot see visual cues optimally, and because buildings, environments, and products are not generally designed to be accessible to them (Williams, Dubin, Amaefule, et al., 2016), they often need assistance with performing activities of daily living. For example, household appliances increasingly have more sophisticated and complex interfaces with flat screens and menus, and fewer if any tactually perceivable buttons or controls. These appliance designs require new approaches to allow access for this population. Environmental access may be provided through traditional methods such as the assistance of family members, service animals, or through the use of white canes and braille. However, clinicians, researchers, and rehabilitation engineers are also developing a growing number of technological products and interventions that assist persons with low vision and blindness as they navigate their communities and perform tasks and activities at home and work.
For the past 30 years NIDILRR has funded the development of technological advancements in products and services that allow people with low vision and blindness to participate in their communities. For example, NIDILRR grantees have conducted research and development leading to technologies for orientation, navigation, and wayfinding by people who are blind. In addition, NIDILRR grantees are conducting research and development toward advances in rehabilitation technology, as well as technologies and products that people who are blind or have low vision can use at school, work, or in other community settings. These technologies and products include refreshable Braille systems, talking signs, the Smart Pen, interactive tactile orientation maps, a tactile graphics helper, acoustic wayfinding tools, and systems to provide audio descriptions of physical objects that the user is touching.
In addition to these new technologies, new and improved vision rehabilitation technologies and approaches are required to improve visual function among those with visual impairments where possible. New rehabilitative technologies and approaches may include but are not limited to sensory substitution techniques (Lloyd-Esenkaya, et al., 2020) and wearable image processing and vision enhancement systems (Deemer, et al., 2018).
With recent rapid enhancements in communications technology and mobile computing, there is an increasing need for people with low vision and blindness to perceive, manipulate, and produce many types of information, such as text and graphics (Csapo, Wersenyi, Nagy & Stockman 2015; Arditi & Cho, 2007; Krufka, Barner, & Aysal, 2007). Further research and development are needed to ensure that people with low vision and blindness have access to mobile computing applications, graphical information, signage, travel information, appliances, and other products with visual displays (Vidal-Verdu & Hafez, 2007; Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act of 2010, 2010; Marom, 2010). New methods for presenting scientific information and concepts in accessible form are needed for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students and professionals who are blind or who have low vision (Minkara, Weaver, Gorske, Bowers, & Merz, 2015).
GPS technology has eased outdoor navigation for travelers who are blind or have low vision, but finding one’s way indoors is still a challenge. Recent technologies such as Bluetooth beacons and variable wireless strength detection systems can enable indoor wayfinding similar to the functions of outdoor GPS systems (Ponchillia, et al., 2020). Cameras, lidar and other technologies being incorporated in smart phones have potential in this field. Although technical solutions have been developed for certain individual travel tasks, these are still somewhat piecemeal and require a user to switch from one piece of technology to another for different aspects of travel. There is a need for investigating ways of better integrating the various approaches to ease the blind or visually impaired traveler’s task. More direct input from potential end users of navigation technologies is likely to improve the success of research and development in this area.
Accordingly, NIDILRR seeks to fund an RERC on low vision and blindness to conduct research and development activities, and to evaluate innovative technologies that will improve the ability of people who are blind or have low vision to function independently within their homes, schools, communities, and workplaces.
American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (2019). 2019 Annual Report. Louisville, KY 40206 USA. http://www.aph.org/about/#annual-reports.
Arditi, A., & Cho, J. (2007). Letter case and text legibility in normal and low vision. Vision research, 47(19), 2499-2505.
Csapó, Á., Wersényi, G., Nagy, H., & Stockman, T. (2015). A survey of assistive technologies and applications for blind users on mobile platforms: a review and foundation for research. Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces, 9(4), 275-286.
Deemer, A. D., Bradley, C. K., Ross, N. C., Natale, D. M., Itthipanichpong, R., Werblin, F. S., & Massof, R. W. (2018). Low vision enhancement with head-mounted video display systems: are we there yet?. Optometry and vision science: official publication of the American Academy of Optometry, 95(9), 694.
Doyle, J., & Sterns, G. K. (2019). Scope of the Problem and Demographic Shift in Population: Visual Disease Incidence and Prevalence in the Elderly Population. In Geriatric Ophthalmology (pp. 1-6). Springer, Cham.
Erickson, W. Lee, C., & von Schrader, S. (2021). Disability Status Report: United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang Tan Institute on Employment and Disability (YTI). www.disabilitystatistics.org.
Glass, H. C., Costarino, A. T., Stayer, S. A., Brett, C., Cladis, F., & Davis, P. J. (2015). Outcomes for extremely premature infants. Anesthesia and analgesia, 120(6), 1337.
Krufka, S. E., Barner, K. E., & Aysal, T. C. (2007). Visual to tactile conversion of vector graphics. IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, 15(2), 310-321.
Lloyd-Esenkaya, T., Lloyd-Esenkaya, V., O’Neill, E., & Proulx, M. J. (2020). Multisensory inclusive design with sensory substitution. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 5(1), 1-15.
Marom, L. (2010). Insulin pump access issues for visually impaired people with type 1 diabetes. Diabetes research and clinical practice, 89(1), e13-e15.
Minkara, M. S., Weaver, M. N., Gorske, J., Bowers, C. R., & Merz Jr, K. M. (2015). Implementation of protocols to enable doctoral training in physical and computational chemistry of a blind graduate student. Journal of chemical education, 92(8), 1280-1283.
National Center on Deaf-Blindness. (2020). 2019 National deaf-blind child count. https://www.nationaldb.org/products/national-child-count/report-2019.
Ponchillia, P. E., Jo, S. J., Casey, K., & Harding, S. (2020). Developing an Indoor Navigation Application: Identifying the Needs and Preferences of Users Who Are Visually Impaired. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 114(5), 344-355.
Romanis, E. C. (2018). Artificial womb technology and the frontiers of human reproduction: conceptual differences and potential implications. Journal of Medical Ethics, 44(11), 751-755.
Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind Act of 2010. 111th CONGRESS, 2d Session, H. R. 4533.
Vidal-Verdú, F., & Hafez, M. (2007). Graphical tactile displays for visually-impaired people. IEEE Transactions on neural systems and rehabilitation engineering, 15(1), 119-130.
Williams, M. A., Dubin, B., Amaefule, C., Nguyen, L., Abdolrahmani, A., Galbraith, C., ... & Kane, S. K. (2016). Better supporting blind pedestrians and blind navigation technologies through accessible architecture. In Designing around people (pp. 237-246). Springer, Cham.
Priority: Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Low Vision and Blindness
The Administrator of the Administration for Community Living establishes this priority for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Low Vision and Blindness. This RERC must conduct research and development activities that lead to new methods and technologies that can be used to promote independence and community living among people of all ages with low vision and blindness. People with low vision and blindness may include but are not limited to older adults, prematurely born infants, those who are deaf-blind, and those with multiple disabilities. Specifically, the RERC must develop or identify and then evaluate the effectiveness of tools, technologies, interventions, or rehabilitation strategies that promote independence and positive community living outcomes among people who are blind or have low vision. The aim of these tools, technologies, interventions or rehabilitation strategies may include, but are not limited to: (1) increased access to graphical information, signage, travel information, or devices and appliances that have digital displays and control panels; (2) improved non-visual orientation and mobility in both indoor and outdoor environments; and (3) increased participation of people with low vision or blindness in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers.
Applicants must specify the stage or stages of research of the research projects that they are proposing. If the applicant proposes to conduct research that can be categorized under more than one stage, including research that progresses from one stage to another, those stages must be clearly specified. These stages, exploration and discovery, intervention development, intervention efficacy, and scale-up evaluation, are defined in this section of the funding opportunity announcement.
Applicants must specify the stage or stages of development of the development projects that they are proposing. If the applicant proposes to conduct development that can be categorized under more than one stage, those stages must be clearly specified. These stages, proof of concept, proof of product, and proof of adoption are defined in this section of the funding opportunity announcement.
Requirements applicable to RERC priorities:
A RERC established under this funding opportunity announcement must be designed to contribute to the following outcomes:
Increased technical and scientific knowledge relevant to its designated priority research area. The RERC must contribute to this outcome by conducting high-quality, rigorous research and development projects. When applicable, the RERC must use engineering knowledge and techniques to collect, analyze, or synthesize research data.
Increased innovation in technologies, products, environments, performance guidelines, and monitoring and assessment tools applicable to its designated priority research area. The RERC must contribute to this outcome through the development and testing of these innovations. When applicable, the RERC must apply engineering knowledge and techniques to achieve development objectives.
Improved research capacity in its designated priority research area. The RERC must contribute to this outcome by collaborating with the relevant industry, professional associations, institutions of higher education, or health care and other service providers, as appropriate, to train new researchers and engineers in this area.
Improved awareness and understanding of cutting edge developments in technologies within its designated priority research area. The RERC must contribute to this outcome by identifying and communicating with NIDILRR, people with disabilities and their representatives, disability organizations, service providers, professional journals, manufacturers, and other interested parties regarding trends and evolving product concepts related to its designated priority research area.
Increased impact of research in the designated priority research area. The RERC must contribute to this outcome by providing technical assistance to relevant public and private organizations, people with disabilities, employers, and schools on policies, guidelines, and standards related to its designated priority research area.
Increased transfer of RERC-developed technologies to the marketplace. The RERC must contribute to this outcome by developing and implementing a plan for ensuring that all technologies developed by the RERC are made available to the public. The technology transfer plan must be developed in the first year of the project period in consultation with the NIDILRR-funded Initiative to Mobilize Partnerships for successful Assistive Technology Transfer (IMPACT) center.
In addition, under each priority, the RERC must--
Have the capability to design, build, and test prototype devices and assist in the technology transfer and knowledge translation of successful solutions to relevant production and service delivery settings;
Evaluate the efficacy and safety of its new products, instrumentation, or assistive devices;
Provide as part of its proposal, and then implement, a plan that describes how it will include, as appropriate, people with disabilities or their representatives in all phases of its activities, including research, development, training, dissemination, and evaluation;
Provide as part of its proposal, and then implement a plan to disseminate its research results to people with disabilities and their representatives, disability organizations, service providers, professional journals, manufacturers, and other interested parties;
Conduct a state-of-the-science conference on its designated priority research area in the fourth year of the project period, and publish a comprehensive report on the final outcomes of the conference in the fifth year of the project period;
Coordinate research projects of mutual interest with relevant NIDILRR-funded projects, as identified through consultation with the NIDILRR project officer; and
Address the needs of people with disabilities from minority backgrounds in its research and development activities.
Definitions - Stages of Research:
Exploration and discovery means the stage of research that generates hypotheses or theories through new and refined analyses of data, producing observational findings and creating other sources of research-based information. This research stage may include identifying or describing the barriers to and facilitators of improved outcomes of individuals with disabilities, as well as identifying or describing existing practices, programs, or policies that are associated with important aspects of the lives of individuals with disabilities. Results achieved under this stage of research may inform the development of interventions or lead to evaluations of interventions or policies. The results of the exploration and discovery stage of research may also be used to inform decisions or priorities.
Intervention development means the stage of research that focuses on generating and testing interventions that have the potential to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Intervention development involves determining the active components of possible interventions, developing measures that would be required to illustrate outcomes, specifying target populations, conducting field tests, and assessing the feasibility of conducting a well-designed intervention study. Results from this stage of research may be used to inform the design of a study to test the efficacy of an intervention.
Intervention efficacy means the stage of research during which a project evaluates and tests whether an intervention is feasible, practical, and has the potential to yield positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Efficacy research may assess the strength of the relationships between an intervention and outcomes and may identify factors or individual characteristics that affect the relationship between the intervention and outcomes. Efficacy research can inform decisions about whether there is sufficient evidence to support “scaling-up” an intervention to other sites and contexts. This stage of research may include assessing the training needed for wide-scale implementation of the intervention and approaches to evaluation of the intervention in real-world applications.
Scale-up evaluation means the stage of research during which a project analyzes whether an intervention is effective in producing improved outcomes for individuals with disabilities when implemented in a real-world setting. During this stage of research, a project tests the outcomes of an evidence-based intervention in different settings. The project examines the challenges to successful replication of the intervention and the circumstances and activities that contribute to successful adoption of the intervention in real-world settings. This stage of research may also include well-designed studies of an intervention that has been widely adopted in practice, but lacks a sufficient evidence base to demonstrate its effectiveness.
Definitions - Stages of Development:
Proof of concept means the stage of development where key technical challenges are resolved. Stage activities may include recruiting study participants; verifying product requirements; implementing and testing (typically in controlled contexts) key concepts, components, or systems; and resolving technical challenges. A technology transfer plan is typically developed and transfer partner(s) identified; and plan implementation may have started. Stage results establish that a product concept is feasible.
Proof of product means the stage of development where a fully-integrated and working prototype, meeting critical technical requirements, is created. Stage activities may include recruiting study participants, implementing and iteratively refining the prototype, testing the prototype in natural or less-controlled contexts, and verifying that all technical requirements are met. A technology transfer plan is typically ongoing in collaboration with the transfer partner(s). Stage results establish that a product embodiment is realizable.
Proof of adoption means the stage of development where a product is substantially adopted by its target population and used for its intended purpose. Stage activities typically include completing product refinements and continued implementation of the technology transfer plan in collaboration with the transfer partner(s). Other activities include measuring users' awareness of the product; opinion of the product; decisions to adopt, use, and retain products; and identifying barriers and facilitators impacting product adoption. Stage results establish that a product is beneficial.