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What is a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC)?

The authority for RERCs is contained in section 204(b)(3) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. 762(b)(3)). The Secretary 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. The grants allow these tribal organizations and universities 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. An RERC must be operated by or in collaboration with an institution of higher education or a nonprofit organization.

RERCs carry out research or demonstration activities by doing some or all of the following things:

(a) Develop and disseminate innovative methods of applying advanced technology, scientific achievement, and psychological and social knowledge to

  • solve rehabilitation problems and remove environmental barriers, and
  • study new or emerging technologies, products, or environments;

(b) Demonstrate and disseminate

  • innovative models for the delivery of cost-effective rehabilitation technology services to rural and urban areas, and
  • scientific research to assist in meeting the employment and independent living needs of individuals with severe disabilities; or

(c) Facilitate changes in service delivery systems through

  • the development, evaluation, and dissemination of consumer-responsive and client/family-centered innovative models for the delivery of services to both rural and urban areas
  • the development of innovative, cost-effective rehabilitation technology services, and
  • scientific research to assist in meeting the employment and independence needs of individuals with severe disabilities.

Each RERC must provide training opportunities to individuals, including individuals with disabilities, to become researchers and practitioners of rehabilitation technology in conjunction with institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations.

The National Insititute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) 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. Not later than three years after the establishment of any RERC, NIDRR will conduct one or more reviews of the activities and achievements of a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center. In accordance with the provisions of 34 CFR 75.253(a), continued funding depends at all times on satisfactory performance and accomplishment.

The RERC grant award program for the 13 to 15 RERCs is administered by NIDRR, Department of Education, Washington, DC.

General Requirements and Absolute Priorities

The plan for the RERC's development and operation is consistent with the stated purposes of RERCs under the authorization provided in section 204(b)(2) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. The specific emphasis for the RERC is embodied in the statements of the absolute priorities, as announced under Priority 5 in the Federal Register [Federal Register, Vol. 63, No. 113, June 12, 1998, pp. 32530].

The scope of activities to be conducted by all RERCs has also been defined by NIDRR by the issuance of general requirements (GRs) in the same Federal Register announcement. RERCs must comply with general requirements by conducting activities that demonstrate or include:

General Requirements

  1. A capability to design, build, and test prototype devices and assist in the transfer of successful solutions to the marketplace.
  2. Evaluate the efficacy and safety of its new products, instrumentation, or assistive devices.
  3. Provide graduate-level research training to build capacity for engineering research in the rehabilitation field.
  4. Provide training in the application of new technology to service providers and to individuals with disabilities and their families.
  5. Involve individuals with disabilities and, if appropriate, their family members in planning and implementing the research, development, and training programs, in interpreting and disseminating the research findings, and in evaluating the Center.
  6. Share information and data, and, as appropriate, collaborate on research and training with other NIDRR-supported grantees including, but not limited to, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers, other related RERCs and RRTCs, and grantees under the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act.
  7. Conduct a state-of-the-science conference 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.
  8. Develop and implement a utilization plan for ensuring that all new and improved technologies developed by the RERC are successfully transferred to the marketplace.
  9. In consultation with the NIDRR-supported National Center for the dissemination of disability research, develop and implement a plan to disseminate the RERC's research results to disability organizations, persons with disabilities, businesses, manufacturers, professional journals, and other appropriate parties.

What is the focus of the RERC on Wheeled Mobility?

As stipulated in the aforementioned Federal Register announcement, the RERC on Wheeled Mobility shall fullfill the following specific priorities (SP):

Absolute or Specific Priorities

  1. Develop and evaluate strategies that can be used to aid therapists and consumers in making informed decisions when prescribing or purchasing new wheelchairs and wheelchair seating systems;
  2. Develop and evaluate strategies in collaboration with the industry to promote the integration of external devices with powered wheelchairs and ensure their compatibility and usability;
  3. Develop and evaluate new wheelchair technologies;
  4. Investigate the viability of dynamic seating systems;
  5. Investigate the factors that contribute to the development of pressure sores and develop and evaluate tools, devices and strategies to prevent them from occurring;
  6. Investigate the use of voluntary performance standards for wheelchair seating devices and clinical measurement devices and, if appropriate, develop in collaboration with the industry strategies to facilitate the implementation of those standards;
  7. Develop and evaluate outcome measurement tools for quantifying seating clinic intervention results.

In carrying out the purposes of the priority, the RERC must coordinate on activities of mutual interest with the RRTC addressing Spinal Cord Injury and the RRTC on Aging with a Disability, as well as, other entities carrying out related research or development activities.

The specific nature of these priorities effectively defines the requisite activities and expertise of the RERC.

To learn more about the specific research and development tasks proposed by this RERC on Wheeled Mobility link to the summaries of our plans for research, development, training, dissemination, utilization, technical assistance, operations, and evaluation.

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