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.
Wireless technologies have the potential to greatly improve the quality of life of people with disabilities by supporting their fullest inclusion in employment, health care, education, and community.
Wireless technologies facilitate the processing and transfer of information between two or more points without continuous physical connection via personal, local, and wide area networks and infrastructures. Wireless technologies support voice, text, and video based communication of all types (e.g., American Sign Language), emergency service messaging, health and location monitoring, personal navigation, environmental control, and other important functions.
The growing number, diversity, and availability of information and telecommunication infrastructures, cellular and wearable products, mobile applications, social media platforms, and multi-modal communication protocols (e.g., audio, video, text to speech, speech to text, etc.) ensures that wireless technologies will remain essential to successful community living and participation. In order for people with disabilities to benefit from the full potential of these ongoing advances, wireless technologies must be available, accessible, secure, and usable.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities, if such access is readily achievable. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Telecommunications and Video Accessibility Act of 2011 addresses new accessibility challenges introduced by broadband, digital, and mobile innovations.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces these laws and has recognized the importance of wireless technology for people with disabilities in its “Broadband Plan”. The Plan (in part) established an accessibility and innovation forum and an Accessibility Clearinghouse with information “on the availability of accessible [wireless technologies] and services and accessibility solutions” (FCC, 2010). The U.S. Access Board developed and maintains the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines for wired and wireless technologies, and products used to provide and support telecommunication-based services (United States Access Board, 2020).
The FCC Disability Advisory Committee (DAC), first established in 2014, now considers essential “communications access” to include advanced communication services and equipment, telephone emergency services, hearing aid compatibility, a national deaf-blind equipment distribution program, telecommunications relay services, and telecommunications services and equipment. The FCC similarly considers essential “video-programming access” to include televised emergency information, video programming apparatus, video program guides and menus, audio description and closed captioning (FCC, 2020). In this context, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) has developed a tool to assist people with hearing, vision, mobility, speech, cognition, or age related disabilities in the identification and selection of accessible cell phones, mobile tablets, applications, and wearable devices (CTIA, 2020).
To assist industry in the design of accessible and functional mobile products, NIDILRR grantees have built and maintained a Consumer Advisory Network (CAN), comprising more than 1,600 people with diverse disabilities. CAN members provide critical insights to industry on “emerging issues related to use, usability, needs and wants” pertaining to wireless technologies (Wireless-RERC, 2020). In the domain of public transportation, NIDILRR grantees have employed crowd sourcing to enable people with or without disability to wirelessly share and receive information about the accessibility of specific public transit vehicles, routes, and infrastructure (RERC-APT, 2020).
Looking to the future, NIDILRR grantees will work to ensure that wireless technologies provide diverse, powerful and accessible capabilities to people with disabilities, to ensure their fullest inclusion and participation in society.
CTIA (2020). Access Wireless: A Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Initiative. https://www.accesswireless.org/
Federal Communications Commission, (2010). A Giant Leap and a Big Deal: Delivering on the promise of equal access to broadband for people with disabilities. https://transition.fcc.gov/national-broadband-plan/equal-access-to-broa…
Federal Communications Commission. (2020). Disability Advisory Committee. https://www.fcc.gov/consumer-governmental-affairs/about-bureau/disabili….
RERC-APT (2020). Advanced Transit Information. Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT). https://www.rercapt.org/.
United States Access Board (2020). United States Access Board (USAB). https://www.access-board.gov/.
Wireless RERC (2020). Consumer Advisory Network. Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (Wireless RERC). http://www.wirelessrerc.gatech.edu/advisory-groups.
Priority: Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) Program: RERC on Wireless Technologies
The Administrator of the Administration for Community Living establishes a priority for a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Wireless Technologies.
Under this priority the RERC must conduct research and development activities that improve the ability of people with sensory, mobility, cognitive, physical, and other disabilities to independently obtain, access, and use wireless technologies in their schools, communities, workplaces, and for emergency services. The RERC must conduct these research and development activities toward the creation of innovative hardware, software, and infrastructure products that promote access to and use of wireless technologies by people with disabilities. People with disabilities must substantively contribute to all projects and project activities of this RERC.
The RERC must collaborate with and provide information to Federal agencies, wireless technology manufacturers, and other relevant stakeholders regarding barriers to and facilitators of the availability, access, and use of wireless technologies by people with disabilities. In particular, the RERC must collaborate with partner entities to facilitate the transfer of products that they develop.
The RERC must provide technical assistance, and carry out knowledge translation and dissemination. In particular, the RERC must follow, understand, and communicate to relevant stakeholders the concerns and opportunities pertaining to the efficacy, safety, and impact of new and emerging wireless technologies, infrastructure, services, and policies.
Ultimately, this RERC must address significant needs, promote independence, and improve the quality of life and community participation of people with disabilities.
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; and
Coordinate research projects of mutual interest with relevant NIDILRR-funded projects, as identified through consultation with the NIDILRR project officer.
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; and
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.