[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 65 (Thursday, April 4, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 20299-20311]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-07879]


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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION


National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research; 
Long-Range Plan for Fiscal Years 2013-2017

AGENCY: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 
Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice.

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SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services announces the publication of the final Long-
Range Plan for Fiscal Years (FY) 2013-2017 (Plan) for the National 
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Services (NIDRR). This Plan 
provides an overview of NIDRR's goals and objectives, identifies 
contributions that NIDRR research has made to improve the lives of 
individuals

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with disabilities, and presents NIDRR's specific goals and objectives 
for the next five years.

DATES: This Plan is effective May 6, 2013.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Marlene Spencer, U.S. Department of 
Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW., room 5133, Potomac Center Plaza 
(PCP), Washington, DC 20202-2700. Telephone: (202) 245-7532 or by 
email: marlene.spencer@ed.gov.
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) or text 
telephone (TTY), call the Federal Relay Service (FRS), toll free, at 1-
800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Plan presents a five-year research 
agenda anchored in NIDRR's legislative authority, consumer goals, and 
scientific initiatives. Section 202(h) of the Rehabilitation Act of 
1973, as amended (Act), requires NIDRR's Director to prepare the Plan 
and establishes the Plan's purposes as follows:
    (1) To identify activities to be conducted under NIDRR's authority 
``respecting the full inclusion and integration into society of 
individuals with disabilities.''
    (2) To identify funding priorities for the activities to be 
conducted.
    (3) To specify goals and timetables for the activities to be 
conducted by NIDRR over the next five years.
    NIDRR published a notice of proposed long-range plan for FY 2013-
2017 (proposed Plan) on April 18, 2012 (70 FR 23231-23237). The Act 
requires that NIDRR consider all public comments received regarding the 
proposed Plan and then transmit the final Plan to Congress.
    Analysis of Comments and Changes: In response to our invitation in 
the notice of proposed Plan, NIDRR received 145 comments. We categorize 
127 of these comments into 15 subject areas and provide responses to 
comments that suggested changes in the proposed Plan. We do not address 
the 18 other general comments because they do not propose changes to 
the Plan. Generally, we do not address technical and other minor 
changes. An analysis of the comments and changes in the Plan since 
publication of the proposed Plan is published as an appendix at the end 
of this notice.

Final Long-Range Plan

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Long-Range Plan for 
Fiscal Years 2013-2017

Preface
    The introductory section of the National Institute on Disability 
and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) Long-Range Plan for Fiscal Years 
(FY) 2013-2017 (Plan) provides basic background about NIDRR and the 
Plan. The background explains NIDRR's mission, its intention for the 
Plan, and how the Plan will shape NIDRR's priorities. The second 
section of the Plan provides a brief summary of NIDRR's goals and 
objectives. The third section of the Plan provides background 
information about NIDRR's legislative mandate and purpose, NIDRR's 
applied approach to disability and rehabilitation research, how that 
approach is improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, and 
how NIDRR's grant mechanisms will structure NIDRR's research and 
development programs. Section four of the Plan details NIDRR's goals 
and objectives for the next five years.

I. Introduction

    NIDRR has a broad and complex mission. NIDRR must support the 
generation of new knowledge and promote its effective use to (1) 
improve the abilities of individuals with disabilities to participate 
in community activities of their choice and (2) enhance society's 
capacity to provide opportunities and accommodations for these 
individuals. NIDRR fulfills its mission through research, development, 
and dissemination and related activities designed to contribute to the 
independence, inclusion, employment, and health and function of 
individuals of all ages with all types and degrees of disability, 
including low-incidence disability. As the number of Americans with 
disabilities is projected to increase substantially over the next two 
decades, the importance of fulfilling NIDRR's mission will only grow 
(Institute of Medicine, 2007. The future of disability in America. 
Washington, DC: National Academies Press).
    NIDRR's Plan includes priorities, goals, and objectives to make 
manifest the direction that NIDRR intends for FYs 2013 through 2017. 
NIDRR will begin implementing all goals at the beginning of FY 2013. 
Over the life of the Plan, NIDRR will further refine the priorities, 
goals, objectives, and timelines to reflect the evolution of science 
and technology, the needs of individuals with disabilities, and the 
input of interested stakeholders, as the completion of the funding 
cycles of current centers and projects allow. Proposed refinements to 
this Plan will be published in the Federal Register for public comment 
and review. NIDRR will also establish and actively solicit the guidance 
of the Rehabilitation Research Advisory Council (RRAC), which is 
authorized under section 205(a) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act). The RRAC will engage individuals with disabilities and, 
as appropriate, their representatives; community rehabilitation and 
service professionals, including providers of assistive technologies; 
rehabilitation researchers and engineers; and other stakeholders. With 
this input, the RRAC will advise NIDRR as to how its programs may 
better serve its established principles. The three principles that 
NIDRR will employ to guide the implementation of the Plan and the 
administration of its programs are balance, quality, and relevance.
    ``Balance'' refers to the management of NIDRR's resource 
allocations across three dimensions: (1) The three outcome domains of 
individual well-being (i.e., employment, community living and 
participation, and health and function); (2) populations of focus; and 
(3) who, whether NIDRR or the grant applicant, defines the specific 
approach to a disability or rehabilitation research topic.
    ``Quality'' refers to the scientific merit of the research and 
development activities, whatever the method employed, and the 
appropriateness of the methods to the topic, question, or problem being 
addressed.
    ``Relevance'' refers to the likelihood that proposed research and 
development activities will make a substantial contribution to the 
well-being of individuals with disabilities, recognizing that the 
benefits of such activities may not always be direct or immediate.
    NIDRR's peer review process will help increase the quality and 
relevance of NIDRR-funded research and development activities. NIDRR is 
committed to the goal that every eligible application for NIDRR funding 
will be reviewed by a knowledgeable panel of experts in research, 
development, policy, services and supports, and other areas appropriate 
to the topic, including individuals with disabilities and, as 
appropriate, family members.
    NIDRR's priorities will be informed by assessments of the state of 
the science, policy, and practice, the advice of the RRAC, and the 
public's response to proposed priorities. NIDRR's portfolio of research 
and development activities will range from the identification of the

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needs and opportunities of individuals with disabilities to the 
widespread implementation of effective, evidence-based policies, 
practices, and products that respond to those needs and opportunities. 
NIDRR recognizes that the development of effective, evidence-based 
policies, practices, and products is as dependent on the exploration 
and description stage of research and development as it is on 
experimental and quasi-experimental trials and other well-designed 
tests of potentially effective interventions, programs, and products.

II. Summary of NIDRR's Goals and Objectives

    NIDRR will maintain a balanced portfolio of high-quality research 
and development centers and projects that address the most important 
problems and issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their 
families. The following is a summary of NIDRR's goals and objectives 
for FY 2013 through FY 2017.
    Goal 1: Create a portfolio of research, development, and other 
activities that balances domains, populations of focus, and who, 
whether NIDRR or the grant applicant, defines the specific approach to 
a disability or rehabilitation research topic.
     Establish a balanced distribution of priorities focused on 
improved outcomes in the domains of employment, community living and 
participation, and health and function.
     Establish a balanced distribution of priorities to address 
the needs of individuals with different disabilities, personal 
characteristics, and social circumstances.
     Expand field-initiated research and development 
opportunities to support innovation.
    Goal 2: Support centers and projects that conduct well-designed 
research and development activities using a range of appropriate 
methods.
     Adopt stages-of-research and stages-of-development 
frameworks that will enhance NIDRR's efforts to generate evidence-based 
policies, practices, and products.
     Support a variety of research and development approaches, 
as appropriate, to important topics and questions.
     Provide for the training of emerging talent and leadership 
in research and development.
    Goal 3: Promote the effective use of knowledge in areas of 
importance to individuals with disabilities and their families.
     Increase and improve the capabilities and activities of 
NIDRR research and engineering centers and projects to ensure the 
accessibility and effectiveness of their work products.
     Increase the use of input from stakeholders by NIDRR and 
NIDRR-funded centers and projects.
     Establish priorities that inform systems and policy 
development, as well as interventions and inventions, to improve 
individual outcomes.
     Support research and development activities of relevance 
that cut across disability categories and NIDRR's three domains.
     Maintain effective ongoing investments and invest in new 
initiatives of promise to address topics of importance to individuals 
with disabilities and their families.
    Goal 4: Improve program administration.
     Streamline NIDRR's processes for establishing and 
publishing priorities for grant competitions.
     Establish and implement a consistent schedule of 
competitions and peer reviews so that competition announcements are 
predictable for potential applicants and peer reviewers.
     Improve NIDRR's peer review processes.

III. Background

    NIDRR was established by the 1978 amendments to the Act. As 
specified in section 200 of the Act (29 U.S.C. 760), NIDRR's purpose is 
to: (a) Provide for research, demonstration projects, training, and 
related activities to maximize the full inclusion and integration into 
society, employment, independent living, family support, and economic 
and social self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities of all 
ages, with particular emphasis on improving the effectiveness of 
services authorized under the Act; (b) provide for a comprehensive and 
coordinated approach to the support and conduct of such research, 
demonstration projects, training, and related activities; (c) promote 
the transfer of rehabilitation technology to individuals with 
disabilities; (d) ensure the widespread distribution, in usable 
formats, of practical scientific and technological information; (e) 
identify effective strategies to enhance the opportunities of 
individuals with disabilities to engage in employment, including 
employment involving telecommuting and self-employment; and (f) 
increase opportunities for researchers who are members of traditionally 
underserved populations, including researchers who are members of 
minority groups and researchers who are individuals with disabilities.
    NIDRR is led by a director within the Office of Special Education 
and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of 
Education. OSERS has two other components: the Rehabilitation Services 
Administration and the Office of Special Education Programs. NIDRR 
works closely with these offices and other disability-related offices 
and agencies across the Federal government.
    NIDRR supports a wide range of rehabilitation research, 
development, and other activities designed to assist individuals with 
disabilities to achieve long-term outcomes such as independence, 
community participation, employment, and good health. To maximize its 
effectiveness in achieving such outcomes, NIDRR research and 
development activities focus on the complex interaction of personal, 
environmental, and supporting factors, including assistive 
technologies. In its practical and applied focus, NIDRR seeks to play a 
pivotal role in the relationship between the producers and consumers of 
knowledge.
    The value of NIDRR's applied focus on research and development can 
be found in important advances in knowledge, practice, and public 
policies that have derived fully or partially from it. In recent years 
these have included, but not been limited to, the development of 
principles, standards, and applications of universal design; the 
development of standards and applications to enhance accessibility of 
the World Wide Web and the design of accessibility features for 
information technology devices, such as computers and cell phones; 
widespread applications of technology to rehabilitation including 
telerehabilitation and national Internet-based workforce training 
systems; improved understanding and treatments of the long-term 
consequences of spinal cord injury, burn injury, and traumatic brain 
injury; development of rehabilitation and community supports for 
individuals recovering from psychiatric conditions; understanding of 
the costs and outcomes of deinstitutionalization and the development of 
community supports for individuals with disabilities; better 
understanding of factors and practices contributing to the employment 
experience of individuals with disabilities; improvements in way 
finding and other mobility aides for individuals with cognitive or 
sensory conditions; and ongoing analysis of national disability 
statistics to guide policy and practice. NIDRR is committed to 
maintaining its focus on

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practical applications of research, development, knowledge translation, 
capacity building, technical assistance, and information dissemination 
to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their 
families.
    NIDRR currently employs nine mechanisms to make grant awards. 
Funding allocation within these mechanisms depends on the overall 
funding available to NIDRR, NIDRR's topical priorities for that year, 
and the size of the funding commitments for grants awarded in previous 
years. On average, about 25 percent of NIDRR's grants end each year. 
NIDRR's grant mechanisms are as follows:
     Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) 
conduct coordinated, advanced research to maximize the health and 
function of, the social and economic independence of, and 
rehabilitation methods and service delivery systems for individuals 
with disabilities. RRTCs also serve as national resource centers in 
their areas of focus.
     Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) 
conduct programs of advanced engineering and technical research and 
development activities designed to enhance opportunities, solve 
rehabilitation problems, and remove environmental barriers for 
individuals with disabilities. RERCs provide for the cost-effective 
delivery and use of assistive technology devices.
     Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects (DRRPs) 
emphasize a broad range of research and development projects, training, 
and knowledge translation on rehabilitation topics. DRRPs have ranged 
from collecting longitudinal data on spinal cord, traumatic brain, and 
burn injuries to studying the effects of health care coordination.
     Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network 
Regional Centers provide information, technical assistance, and 
training in areas related to the mandates of the ADA. These centers 
form a national network and assist disability organizations, 
individuals with disabilities, businesses, public agencies, and the 
general public in understanding and fulfilling the purposes of the ADA.
     Model Systems in Spinal Cord Injury, Traumatic Brain 
Injury, and Burn Injury provide model rehabilitation services and 
supports to individuals after injury. The Model Systems conduct center-
specific research projects and a collaborative program of research, 
longitudinal data collection, and dissemination.
     Field-Initiated Projects address disability and 
rehabilitation topics in promising and innovative ways based on the 
applicant's perception of needed research or development. These 
projects attend to a wide range of topics and target populations, 
including low-incidence populations.
     Advanced Rehabilitation Research Training Projects provide 
support to institutions of higher education to recruit qualified post-
doctoral individuals with clinical, management, or basic research 
experience and prepare them for careers in disability and 
rehabilitation research.
     Switzer Research Fellowships give individual researchers 
opportunities to develop new ideas, gain research experience, and 
concentrate on specific lines of research. NIDRR supports Switzer 
Fellows for one year as they conduct independent research projects.
     Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants are 
administered by NIDRR as a part of the larger mandatory Federal SBIR 
program. NIDRR's SBIR grants support the design and production of new 
assistive and rehabilitation technologies, including the research, 
development, and dissemination of, and training with respect to, 
products with commercial potential and with benefit to individuals with 
disabilities. This two-phase program takes a rehabilitation-related 
product from development toward market readiness.
    NIDRR funds are awarded competitively on the basis of advice 
received through a peer review process to ensure the quality and 
integrity of the NIDRR portfolio. Researchers, methodologists, 
rehabilitation engineers, and other experts, including individuals with 
disabilities and their families, serve on panels made up of three to 
seven individuals. These experts review proposals according to the 
selection criteria in the application package for the competition. 
NIDRR's peer review process is designed to ensure the scientific 
quality of NIDRR's portfolio, its contributions to the well-being of 
individuals with disabilities, and its relevance to the needs of the 
disability and rehabilitation communities. NIDRR continues to focus on 
improving the quality of its peer review process, including by 
addressing the specific recommendations for the peer review process 
made in the November 2011 review of NIDRR by the National Academy of 
Sciences (NAS)/National Research Council (2011). (Review of disability 
and rehabilitation research: NIDRR grantmaking processes and products. 
Washington, DC: National Academies Press.)

IV. Goals and Objectives

    NIDRR will pursue the following goals and objectives for FY 2013 
through FY 2017.
    Goal 1: Create a portfolio of research, development, and other 
activities that is balanced in terms of domains, populations of focus, 
and who, whether NIDRR or the grant applicant, defines the specific 
approach to a disability or rehabilitation research topic.
    Objective 1.1--Establish a balanced distribution of priorities 
focused on improved outcomes in the domains of employment, community 
living and participation, and health and function.
    One of the congressional findings in Sec. 2.(a)(3) of the Act 
states that ``disability is a natural part of the human experience and 
in no way diminishes the right of individuals to (A) Live 
independently; (B) enjoy self-determination; (C) make choices; (D) 
contribute to society; (E) pursue meaningful careers; and (F) enjoy 
full inclusion and integration in the * * * mainstream of American 
society.'' An individual's opportunity to enjoy these rights depends on 
an interaction between the individual and the physical and social 
environment. Within each of its domains, NIDRR will support research, 
development, and other activities that gather and use knowledge of 
systems, environments, technologies, and individual characteristics, 
goals, and behaviors to support the fulfillment of such rights.

Employment

    Employment and earnings are essential to independence, self-
determination, and contribution to society. NIDRR will support centers 
and projects to address unemployment, underemployment, and unnecessary 
dependency on public benefits. NIDRR will support activities to improve 
opportunities for employment that are consistent with an individual's 
abilities, interests, and career aspirations. NIDRR will also support 
research and development activities that examine employment policies 
and practices, vocational rehabilitation services, and technologies and 
accommodations that contribute to improved employment and career 
outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

Community Living and Participation

    NIDRR is committed to improving the opportunities and abilities of 
individuals with disabilities to live as integrated members of their 
communities and to participate in community activities of their choice. 
NIDRR will fund activities consistent

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with the underlying principles of the independent living programs 
authorized under the Act and the ADA as affirmed in the U.S. Supreme 
Court's 1999 decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581. NIDRR will 
support centers and projects to increase community living and 
participation through improvements in policy, services and support 
delivery, assistive technologies, environmental modifications, and 
person-centered planning and therapeutic interventions.

Health and Function

    Maximizing health and function among people with disabilities is 
critical to achieving the goals of employment, community living and 
participation, and individual well-being across the lifespan. NIDRR 
will support centers and projects on health and function that improve 
understanding of the health status, health needs, and health care 
access of individuals with disabilities. These centers and projects 
will also develop and test interventions, including public policy 
interventions, to improve health outcomes, increase or maintain 
functional abilities, and contribute to more effective medical 
rehabilitation and long-term services and supports, including 
integrated health and long-term service and support approaches.
    Objective 1.2--Establish a balanced distribution of priorities to 
address the needs of individuals with different disabilities, personal 
characteristics, and social circumstances.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs)

    NIDRR will establish RRTCs, as authorized in the Act. In addition 
to being productive centers of relevant and well-designed research, 
these RRTCs will serve as: (1) National resource centers for 
individuals with disabilities and their representatives, families, 
service providers, policymakers, and others; (2) informational and 
technical assistance resources to individuals with disabilities and 
their representatives, families, service providers, policymakers, and 
others through conferences, workshops, public education programs, in-
service training programs, and similar activities; and (3) centers of 
data gathering, analysis, and knowledge translation to address systems 
and policy issues that affect individuals with disabilities of all 
ages.
    The RRTCs will address the needs of individuals of all ages with 
psychiatric, intellectual and developmental, and physical disabilities, 
as well as individuals with significant impairments of vision and 
hearing. These centers will identify practices associated with positive 
outcomes across NIDRR's domains and assess the status and effectiveness 
of programs and service systems in achieving positive outcomes.
    NIDRR will also establish RRTCs in such areas as:
     Vocational rehabilitation.
     Rural rehabilitation.
     Rehabilitation of individuals from minority backgrounds.
     Families with members with disabilities.
     Disability statistics.

Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Centers (RERCs)

    NIDRR will support RERCs to address the barriers confronted by 
individuals with disabilities in all aspects of their lives. These 
RERCs will address the needs of a wide range of individuals with 
disabilities, including those with sensory and cognitive impairments. 
They will address barriers confronted by persons with disabilities in 
employment, community living and participation, and health and function 
through technologies that accommodate communication, mobility, sensory 
impairments, and other limitations.
    NIDRR will establish RERCs that will address priorities within the 
following four areas of rehabilitation engineering:
     Rehabilitation strategies, techniques, and interventions.
     Information and communication technologies.
     Individual mobility and manipulation.
     Physical access and transportation.
    Objective 1.3--Expand field-initiated research and development 
opportunities to support innovation.
    In order to take advantage of the field's expertise, knowledge, and 
creativity, NIDRR plans to provide an increased number of field-
initiated opportunities for research, demonstration, and development of 
technological solutions to significant problems faced by individuals 
with disabilities. These projects may choose to focus on specific 
disability populations, including low-incidence populations. After 
consulting with the RRAC, publishing the proposed priorities for 
comment, and considering those comments, NIDRR will publish final 
priorities that include broad topical areas from which applicants will 
have the discretion to define a specific approach. Applicants also may 
propose cross-domain projects that have the potential to make a 
substantial contribution to solving significant problems.
    Goal 2: Support centers and projects that conduct well-designed 
research and development activities using a range of appropriate 
methods.
    Objective 2.1--Adopt a stages-of-research framework that will 
enhance its efforts to generate evidence-based practices.
    NIDRR will support a range of well-designed research methods using 
a stages-of-research framework. When inviting applications for funding, 
NIDRR will ask applicants to identify the stage of research appropriate 
to their proposed research. Specification of the stage of research will 
allow NIDRR to ensure that proposed research is evaluated by peer 
reviewers who are knowledgeable about the stage of research and the 
proposed research methods using appropriate selection criteria. NIDRR 
will ask applicants to justify the stage of research proposed based on 
the current state-of-knowledge on the topic as well as the importance 
of the research questions and appropriateness of the methods proposed 
to carry out the research. NIDRR's framework will include the following 
stages of research:

Exploration and Description

    Exploration and description have the research objective of 
generating new and refined analyses of data, observational findings, 
and other sources of information to establish the circumstances and 
needs of persons with disabilities and to guide hypotheses and 
theories. Exploration and description seek to advance the state of 
knowledge regarding the status of individuals with disabilities and the 
barriers to and facilitators of improved employment, community living 
and participation, health and function, and other outcomes for 
individuals with disabilities. This research stage may include 
identifying or describing existing policies, practices, or products 
that are associated with important aspects of the lives and needs of 
individuals with disabilities or the outcomes of services and supports 
provided to them. Results achieved under this research objective may be 
used to inform new lines of research related to practices, programs, or 
policies to inform decisions or priorities.

Intervention Development

    Intervention development has the research objective of generating 
and testing interventions that have the potential to improve outcomes 
for individuals with disabilities. Intervention development involves 
determining the features of possible interventions that are most 
significant in achieving desired outcomes and the

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measures that would be required to illustrate those outcomes, 
specifying target populations, conducting field tests, and assessing 
the feasibility of conducting a well-designed interventions study. 
Results from this research objective may be used to inform the design 
of a study to test the efficacy of an intervention.

Intervention Efficacy

    Intervention efficacy has the research objective of evaluating and 
testing whether an intervention is feasible, is practical, and can 
yield positive outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Efficacy 
research may assess the strength of an intervention, identify factors 
associated with outcomes, and inform decisions about whether there is 
sufficient evidence to support ``scaling-up'' an intervention to other 
sites and contexts. Issues addressed may include training needed for 
wide-scale implementation and approaches to evaluation of the 
intervention in real-world applications.

Scale-up Evaluation

    Scale-up evaluation has the research objective of evaluating 
whether interventions are effective in producing improved outcomes for 
individuals with disabilities when implemented in real-world settings. 
This research tests the outcomes of evidence-based practices operating 
in different settings. It examines the challenges to successful 
replications and the circumstances and activities that contribute to 
successful wide-scale adoption of interventions, programs, policies, 
and technologies. Research in this area may also include well-designed 
studies of interventions that have been widely adopted in practice but 
lack sufficient evidence of their effectiveness.
    Objective 2.2--Develop and adopt a framework for development to 
support the design, creation, testing, and uptake of assistive 
technology, engineering, and other products to improve the lives of 
people with disabilities.
    To improve its management of centers and projects that develop 
methods, procedures, and technologies to maximize inclusion, 
independence, and self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities, 
NIDRR will develop and adopt a framework for development. This 
framework will contribute to the effective review of applications for 
funding, assist in describing and monitoring project activities, and 
support evaluation of the utility and productivity of NIDRR's 
investment in development projects. This framework will be created, 
reviewed, and amended, as appropriate, in consultation with individuals 
with disabilities, rehabilitation engineers and other developers and 
providers of assistive technology, community rehabilitation and service 
professionals, and other stakeholders.
    Objective 2.3--Support a variety of research methods as appropriate 
to important topics and research questions.
    NIDRR will support quantitative and qualitative research 
methodologies, as well as research approaches that combine both 
methodologies. NIDRR will provide guidance on its expectations for the 
various research methods.
    Objective 2.4--Provide for the training of emerging talent and 
leadership in research and development.
    NIDRR will fulfill its statutory obligation to build the Nation's 
capacity to conduct research and development activities that make 
positive contributions to the lives of individuals with disabilities 
across the domains of employment, community living and participation, 
and health and function. NIDRR's capacity-building activities will 
include fellowship programs and centers where emerging talent and 
leadership in research and engineering will be developed. In these 
capacity-building activities NIDRR will promote opportunities for 
individuals with disabilities and individuals from minority 
backgrounds.
    Goal 3: Promote the generation and effective use of knowledge in 
areas of importance to individuals with disabilities and their 
families.
    Objective 3.1--Ensure that NIDRR research centers and projects 
provide access to, and effective use of, their research.
    NIDRR will increase expectations that its research centers and 
projects provide research-based knowledge and resources to individuals 
with disabilities and their families, service providers, and 
policymakers. NIDRR will support training, technical assistance, and 
knowledge translation activities to enhance the capabilities of 
individuals with disabilities, researchers, practitioners, and 
organizations and agencies to use the best available information in 
order to obtain desired outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
    All of NIDRR's centers and projects will carry out knowledge 
translation (KT) activities. KT promotes the use of research-based 
knowledge to support the ability of individuals to live successfully in 
society. KT requires that grantees involve relevant stakeholders in the 
design and conduct of research activities to optimize the relevance and 
use of proposed outputs, use tools such as systematic reviews and 
research synthesis to assess and disseminate the information generated 
through research, and translate research findings into information that 
is usable by individuals with disabilities and their families, 
practitioners, and policymakers.
    Objective 3.2--Increase the use of input from stakeholders.
    In order to ensure that its centers and projects address important 
issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families, 
NIDRR will develop and implement a process by which NIDRR may 
continuously communicate with a wide range of stakeholders about 
NIDRR's activities, solicit feedback on the impact of NIDRR's 
investments, obtain recommendations for research topics, and gather 
stakeholder input on NIDRR's Plan.

Rehabilitation Research Advisory Council

    As authorized by section 205 of the Act and consistent with a 
recommendation in the 2012 NAS review report, NIDRR will establish the 
RRAC. The RRAC will advise NIDRR's Director on research priorities and 
the need for revisions of the current Plan and on the development of 
future long-range plans.

Improved Use of Information Technology

    NIDRR will continue to upgrade its use of information technology, 
including its Web site, in order to improve its information 
dissemination activities, increase its capacity to obtain input and 
feedback from stakeholders, and facilitate ongoing discussions with and 
among NIDRR grantees, individuals with disabilities, and other 
stakeholders.
    Objective 3.3--Establish priorities that inform systems and policy 
development as well as interventions to improve outcomes for 
individuals.
    Across its three domains, NIDRR will support centers and projects 
that address systems and policy issues as well as interventions that 
directly improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities and their 
families.
    Objective 3.4--Support topics of relevance that cut across 
disability categories and NIDRR's three domains.
    NIDRR will support important projects that cut across disability 
categories or domains when such projects are relevant, well-designed, 
and offer promise of significant benefit to multiple groups of 
individuals with disabilities and their families. Examples of these 
cross-cutting priorities will

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include, but not be limited to, disability demographics and technology 
for access and function.

Disability Demographics

    Valid and reliable demographic data help all agencies and research 
in the disability field. NIDRR will continue its work with other 
Federal agencies to meet its statutory mandate to collaborate in 
producing demographic and statistical data that describe the population 
of individuals with disabilities. NIDRR's disability demographics 
effort will generate and disseminate new and current information that 
can be used by individuals with disabilities, service providers, 
policymakers, and others working to identify and eliminate disparities 
in employment, community living and participation, and health and 
function.

Technology for Access and Function

    For individuals with disabilities, technology plays a vital role in 
improving function and increasing access, thereby enhancing the ability 
to lead increasingly independent, secure, and productive lives. The 
importance of accessibility for individuals with disabilities to the 
existing and emerging technology environments in our homes, schools, 
jobs, and communities cannot be overstated. At the individual level, 
NIDRR will focus on assistive technology devices that enhance the 
physical, sensory, cognitive, and communication capabilities of persons 
with disabilities, including individuals from low-incidence 
populations. At the systems level, NIDRR will promote the application 
of technology research and development in ways that enhance community 
integration, independence, productivity, competitiveness, and equal 
opportunity by mitigating or eliminating barriers found in large social 
systems such as public transportation, telecommunications, information 
technology, commerce, and the built environment.
    NIDRR will continue to support technology-related research and 
development centers and projects with the goal of transferring 
technology into products that can be readily accessed and used to 
improve the lives of individuals with disabilities. NIDRR will continue 
to play a leadership role within the Federal government on 
accessibility of information and computer technologies.

Leadership in Cloud Computing

    NIDRR is committed to ensuring access to, and benefit from, cloud 
computing for individuals with disabilities. There is substantial 
international activity in this area, from which individuals stand to 
benefit and to which the United States should contribute. NIDRR and its 
grantees will play leadership roles in national and international 
activities to ensure accessibility, and to exploit the potential of 
cloud computing to support the independence, employment, and functional 
capabilities of persons with disabilities. In its efforts NIDRR will 
support grantees working on cloud-based infrastructure and 
applications, and will work cooperatively with government agencies and 
private entities to leverage all available resources.
    Objective 3.5--Maintain ongoing investments that effectively 
address topics of importance to individuals with disabilities and their 
families.
    NIDRR has invested in a number of projects for many years. The 
value of these long-term investments is an important consideration as 
NIDRR plans for its future commitments. For example, NIDRR has 
supported projects that have created national rehabilitation and 
disability services databases and that have enhanced accessibility of 
the built environment and information technologies, as well as other 
nationally valued projects in other areas. On a project-by-project 
basis and with the input of the RRAC and other stakeholders, NIDRR will 
continue to support centers and projects in certain priority areas in 
which NIDRR has substantial long-term investments and that continue to 
contribute significantly to NIDRR's goals and objectives.
    Goal 4: Improve program administration.
    Objective 4.1--Streamline processes for establishing and publishing 
priorities for grant competitions.
    Historically, most of NIDRR's priorities have included a number of 
detailed required activities that demanded a great deal of time to 
develop and publish. As indicated in Objective 1.3 of the Plan, NIDRR 
will provide applicants with more field-initiated opportunities by 
issuing priorities for each domain that consist of broad topical areas 
and fewer specifically required activities. These topical areas will 
remain open for competition for up to five years. This will provide 
applicants with increased discretion to propose specific projects that 
fall within the topical areas and enhance NIDRR's ability to publish 
its funding priorities on a more timely basis. In addition, because 
NIDRR staff will devote less time to developing and publishing new 
priorities, they will have more time for providing technical assistance 
to their grantees, monitoring grants, and participating in cross-agency 
research and development activities.
    Objective 4.2--Establish and implement a regular schedule of 
competitions and peer reviews.
    The NAS/National Research Council review report noted that NIDRR 
has not established a regular schedule for publishing priorities, 
publishing notices inviting applications, or conducting peer reviews. 
An irregular schedule may negatively affect the ability of qualified 
applicants to submit proposals and limit the availability of expert 
reviewers. Consistent with the NAS recommendations, and aided by 
streamlining its priority development process, NIDRR will establish a 
regular schedule of competitions that potential applicants and peer 
reviewers can depend on for planning purposes. Having the topical areas 
in place for up to five years will provide the field with stable and 
reliable opportunities for funding, and applicants who are not 
successful in one competition can revise and improve their applications 
for future competitions under the same topic.
    Objective 4.3--Improve the peer review process.
    The NAS review report commented on NIDRR's peer review processes 
and made a number of recommendations for enhancement. Consistent with 
the NAS recommendations and ongoing quality improvement goals within 
NIDRR, during the next five years NIDRR will improve the following:
     Recruitment of qualified reviewers.
     Peer reviewer orientation.
     Review criteria and scoring.
     Stakeholder representation and related stakeholder 
support.
     Consistency across review panels.
    A number of other changes will be explored by NIDRR as potential 
means of enhancing the ability of peer reviewers to carry out their 
responsibilities. These include, but are not limited to: (1) 
Establishing page limits for some or all NIDRR program applications; 
and (2) limiting the number of applications reviewed per panel with 
limits depending on the page limits of the applications.

V. Summary

    With the adoption of this Plan, as refined by comments and 
suggestions from stakeholders and other parties, NIDRR believes it will 
be positioned to better promote the principles of balance, quality, and 
relevance in its activities. This approach will make NIDRR more 
effective in fulfilling its role as a leading Federal agency in 
generating and promoting the use of knowledge to

[[Page 20306]]

improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families.
    Accessible Format: Individuals with disabilities can obtain this 
document in an accessible format (e.g., braille, large print, 
audiotape, or compact disc) by contacting the Grants and Contracts 
Services Team, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW., 
room 5075, PCP, Washington, DC 20202-2550. Telephone: (202) 245-7363. 
If you use a TDD or a TTY, call the FRS, toll free, at 1-800-877-8339.
    Electronic Access to This Document: 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 via the Federal Digital System 
at: www.gpo.gov/fdsys. At this site you can view this document, as well 
as all other documents of this Department published in the Federal 
Register, in text or Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). To use PDF 
you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available free at the 
site.
    You may also access documents of the Department published in the 
Federal Register by using the article search feature at: 
www.federalregister.gov. Specifically, through the advanced search 
feature at this site, you can limit your search to documents published 
by the Department.

    Dated: April 1, 2013.
Michael Yudin,
Delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of 
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

Appendix

Analysis of Comments and Changes

    Note: This appendix will not appear in the Code of Federal 
Regulations.

1. NIDRR's Commitment to Balance

    Comments: Three commenters recommended that NIDRR ``reconcile'' 
its commitment to maintain investments in effective programs with 
its commitment to maintain balance in its funding of programs across 
its three primary domains.
    Discussion: We believe both commitments are important and can be 
maintained with judicious attention to the effectiveness of existing 
programs and the disparities in resource allocation across domains.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter noted support for the commitment to a 
balanced portfolio but challenged NIDRR to remain responsive to the 
needs of constituents and fluctuations in topics of importance.
    Discussion: We are fully committed to supporting programs that 
are relevant to the current and changing needs of persons with 
disabilities. When established, Research Advisory Council (RRAC) 
will represent key stakeholder groups and is expected to assist 
NIDRR in adhering to that commitment.
    Change: None.
    Comments: Two commenters asked how balance will be achieved with 
the increased emphasis on funding field-initiated projects.
    Discussion: We believe that NIDRR's broad priority areas and 
increased emphasis on field-initiated proposals will allow ample 
opportunity for applicants to propose work of relevance to 
individuals with disabilities in each of NIDRR's primary domains. If 
necessary to achieve reasonable balance across domains, NIDRR will 
fund the highest scoring applications within specific domains.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked whether our commitment to balance 
includes balance between research and technology development 
funding.
    Discussion: In the Plan NIDRR commits to maintaining balance 
across its primary domains and to the full range of types and 
degrees of disability. There is no commitment to maintain a 
particular distribution between funding for research and technology 
development projects, but we anticipate no notable deviation from 
the present distribution. There may be effects in the relative 
distribution of funding associated with increased opportunities for 
field-initiated proposals. We will monitor such trends in funding 
among NIDRR's primary domains, and, as appropriate, we will explore 
needed remedies with our RRAC, when established.
    Change: None.
    Comments: Three commenters proposed that NIDRR identify in the 
Plan its commitment to specific disability conditions or specific 
demographic groupings. One commenter suggested that we expand our 
Model Systems program to include a specific disability group.
    Discussion: There are too many conditions and potential 
demographic groupings for us to designate funding for each specific 
group. We may, based on compelling need or opportunity, designate 
funding for research or development projects focused on specific 
groups, but generally applicants with interest in specific 
disability and demographic groups will be encouraged to submit high-
quality, compelling proposals to our various field-initiated 
competitions. Given currently available funding, a substantial 
investment in creating and financing additional Model Systems 
programs would preclude NIDRR from funding other important research 
and development activities.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked for clarification about whether 
NIDRR will continue competitions for priority areas that are 
currently funded or will establish new priorities.
    Discussion: In carrying out the Plan, NIDRR may continue current 
priorities, create new priorities, or both.
    Change: None.

2. Stages of Research

    Comments: One commenter suggested that we invite interested 
parties to engage in a facilitated dialogue on the concept of stages 
of research.
    Discussion: We will continue to obtain feedback through our 
regulatory process. We have already requested public comment on the 
proposed stages of research in the Federal Register notice 
requesting comments on the priority for the FY 2012 Employment of 
Individuals with Disabilities (H133A-1) Disability and 
Rehabilitation Research Project and sought further comment on the 
proposed stages of research in some priorities developed for FY 2013 
competitions.
    Change: None.
    Comments: We were asked whether the exploratory stage of 
research is restricted to descriptive research or whether it can 
include the study of interventions.
    Discussion: In our proposed stages of research, exploratory 
research is research that can describe or classify a problem through 
a variety of mechanisms, including but not limited to descriptive 
research, analysis of secondary data, development of measures, and 
so forth. This research may result in information that will lead to 
development of an intervention, or it may advance knowledge or the 
capacity to conduct research.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked if small, non-randomized trials of 
interventions could be part of the interventions development stage.
    Discussion: It will be up to the applicant to specify and 
justify what is necessary to develop an intervention. Nothing 
prohibits an applicant from suggesting a small, non-randomized trial 
as part of this development process. It will be up to the peer 
review panel to determine the appropriateness of the proposed 
methodology for any research study.
    Change: None.
    Comments: We were asked if scale-up evaluation primarily means 
moving from a single-center to a multi-center study.
    Discussion: The purpose of a scale-up project is to determine if 
the intervention is effective in real-world settings. This could 
involve multi-center studies; however, the intent is to determine 
how best to move proven interventions into widespread practical use.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter distinguished between normal research, 
described as testing hypotheses and building evidence in a 
prescribed method (such as NIDRR's stages of research), and systems 
research, described as aiming to solve problems right away by 
adopting ``socially valid'' solutions. The commenter suggested that 
solutions of the latter type, having been developed within the 
context in which they are intended to be applied, do not require a 
scale-up stage before being implemented broadly.
    Discussion: We are aware that other government agencies have 
promulgated translational research activities that incorporate this 
approach. In this approach, evidence-based practice for one 
population may be adapted for use in a new population using 
established criteria for evaluating the uptake but not following a 
proscribed and lengthy process for establishing evidence of efficacy 
for the new population. Since we are not prescribing the steps to 
accompany each

[[Page 20307]]

stage, it will be up to applicants to propose and justify the 
methods proposed for any stage, including the scale-up stage. We 
would invite, within the scale-up stage, research on the effects of 
interventions, programs, or policies that are broadly applied, but 
on which there is inadequate well-designed research.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked if an applicant has to limit its 
proposal to a single stage.
    Discussion: An applicant does not have to limit its proposed 
efforts to a single stage of research; however, applicants should 
identify and justify each research stage and should consider time 
and resources in its decision about work carried out at multiple 
stages.
    Change: None.
    Comments: Two commenters asked for clarification about whether 
the stages of research approach will limit grantees who propose non-
intervention research and whether such applicants will be able to 
obtain fair consideration of their proposals.
    Discussion: NIDRR's overall purpose is to support research that 
results in beneficial changes in programs, policies, and practices 
affecting the lives of individuals with disabilities. In many ways, 
these changes are interventions. So at a broad level, the purpose of 
NIDRR's research is the development of interventions, defined as 
changes in practices, programs, and policies. In the past, much of 
NIDRR's funding has been allocated to projects at stages preceding 
the intervention stage, documenting the conditions and needs of 
individuals with disabilities and their families and creating the 
infrastructure to support development of evidence-based changes in 
programs, policies, and practices. We expect to continue funding 
projects at theses stages. The purpose of introducing a requirement 
to identify the proposed research stage is to improve the quality of 
the research that we fund. It will also help NIDRR clarify and 
classify the kinds of research it supports and help applicants 
better justify the topics, research goals, and approaches they 
propose. We are not seeking to limit applicants from proposing any 
research that will benefit individuals with disabilities. Nothing in 
the stages of research approach is designed to favor one type of 
research over another.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked if activities such as longitudinal 
data analysis would be considered exploratory even if new knowledge 
is produced.
    Discussion: It will be up to the applicants to determine the 
stage of their proposed research and to explain why the stage is 
appropriate to the state of knowledge about the proposed topic. 
Nothing in our Plan will specify how methods should be used to 
support stages of research.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked what we are gaining from the 
stages of research approach and how policy, statistics, and survey 
research fit into the stages.
    Discussion: Through the stages of research framework we gain a 
way to describe how our research investments are contributing to 
changes in programs, policies, and practices that improve the lives 
of individuals with disabilities. We also hope to improve the 
quality of the research we fund by asking applicants to clarify why 
the stages proposed are appropriate to the state of knowledge of the 
topic they are addressing. We are not weighting our research 
investment in favor of any stage, unless the specific circumstances 
warrant focus on a particular stage of research.
    It will be up to applicants to propose and justify methods to 
conduct research at any stage of research. We do not intend that 
identification of stages of research will limit applicants in their 
methods for conducting studies, and we plan that peer review will 
determine if the methods are appropriate.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter suggested that NIDRR is prioritizing 
interventions research and asked if NIDRR's funding will allow it to 
support such research.
    Discussion: We have articulated our belief that, at a broad 
level, all of our research is conducted with the goal of creating 
interventions that support changes in programs, policies, and 
practices that improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities. 
We are aware that available funding may not allow for scaling up 
interventions to a large number of sites; however, we hope to 
promote and, as feasible, support this critical stage of testing 
research findings in the real world.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked if NIDRR would consider funding 
projects that seek to advance methodology as well as service 
delivery.
    Discussion: Nothing in the Plan prohibits any applicant from 
seeking to advance methodology, and we do not intend to fund only 
research on service delivery.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked how NIDRR will ensure that panel 
reviewers understand the stages of research and the variations in 
applications across disciplines, and whether NIDRR will provide 
guidelines or templates to reviewers.
    Discussion: NIDRR's peer review criteria for research have been 
and will be applied to all applicants regardless of the academic 
discipline or perspective of the applicant. Research review criteria 
will define and support the stages concept generally but will not 
establish specific standards for any stage. We are developing new 
peer reviewer training materials and will incorporate the stages of 
research approach.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter recommended that NIDRR incorporate the 
stages of research approach into its priority setting process for 
center grants.
    Discussion: We assume that this commenter was referring to the 
Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) and the 
Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs). NIDRR will ask 
center applicants to use the proposed stages of research framework 
to explain their proposed research. We may also require this 
framework in applications for non-center grants such as DRRPs and 
other research programs.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter expressed concern that the stages of 
research approach could stifle innovation and be applied in a 
formulaic manner. This commenter suggested that NIDRR have an 
ongoing role in implementing, and in training researchers on, the 
stages of research framework.
    Discussion: We see no circumstances in which the stages of 
research could in any way diminish innovation, but we do agree that 
ongoing discussion and training on the stages of research framework 
and the wide diversity of research methods and topics that can be 
subsumed within them will be helpful.
    Change: None.

3. Low-Incidence Populations

    Comments: One commenter recommended that NIDRR-funded centers 
and projects enter into partnerships with entities that have 
expertise in the needs of low-incidence populations to address 
policy and systems implications for these populations.
    Discussion: In the Plan's knowledge translation (KT) 
requirements, we recognize the need for all NIDRR-funded centers and 
projects to involve relevant stakeholders. As stated in Objective 
3.1, all of NIDRR's centers and projects will carry out KT 
activities, and a key component of KT is requiring grantees to 
involve relevant stakeholders in the design and conduct of research 
activities to optimize the relevance and use of proposed outputs. We 
believe that this expectation will encourage researchers to engage 
in partnerships with individuals and entities with appropriate 
expertise related to important target populations, including persons 
with low-incidence conditions.
    Change: None.
    Comments: Two commenters recommended that one or more of NIDRR's 
programs address the needs of a wide variety of disabilities, 
including low-incidence disabilities.
    Discussion: The Plan's introduction discusses how NIDRR fulfills 
its mission through research, development, and dissemination and 
related activities that contribute to the independence, inclusion, 
employment, and health and function of individuals of all ages and 
degrees of disability, including low-incidence disabilities. NIDRR 
recognizes the importance of research on low-incidence disabilities. 
While in the past NIDRR priorities may have specified target 
populations, its new, more field-initiated approach, as discussed in 
the Plan, will increase opportunities for researchers to target 
specific low-incidence populations.
    Change: The Plan's description of the field-initiated process 
now indicates that these projects may choose to focus on specific 
disability populations, including low-incidence populations.

4. Applicability of Knowledge Translation Activities

    Comments: Three commenters questioned the applicability of the 
KT activities described in the Plan to all NIDRR-funded projects. 
One of these commenters also suggested that NIDRR provide additional

[[Page 20308]]

guidelines to applicants and peer reviewers about how different 
types of KT would apply to different types of projects.
    Discussion: Our descriptions of KT activities are intentionally 
general and broad. We expect applicants to select and justify their 
specific KT activities based on the nature of their project and the 
associated stakeholder groups. We are confident that NIDRR peer 
reviewers will be able to discern whether the proposed KT activities 
will be beneficial and productive uses of resources to meet the 
needs and expectations of stakeholders.
    Change: None.

5. Design or Effectiveness of Specific NIDRR ``Capacity-building'' 
Programs

    Comments: One commenter questioned whether there is a 
requirement that centers be based at a university and expressed a 
concern that this would be a barrier to broad dissemination of 
RRTCs.
    Discussion: There is no requirement in the Plan that RRTCs be 
based at universities. In fact, such a requirement would be 
inconsistent with 34 CFR 350.21, which requires an RRTC to be 
operated by or in conjunction with (a) one or more institutions of 
higher education; or (b) one or more providers of rehabilitation or 
other appropriate services. The same flexible collaboration 
requirement also applies to RERCs.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked how NIDRR will link stages of 
research to its investment in capacity building.
    Discussion: At the present time, NIDRR's investments in capacity 
building are field-initiated in nature, meaning that applicants 
propose and justify capacity-building activities in response to 
regulatory requirements rather than in response to NIDRR-developed 
priorities. NIDRR has no plans to change this at the present time, 
but could propose more directed capacity building if deemed 
necessary. We expect that our focus on stages of research will 
result in changes in the types if research that our grantees carry 
out and that this will help contribute to increased capacity in the 
field to carry out research at all stages.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter noted that the proposed Plan contains no 
reference to the July 2011 NIDRR-sponsored Research Capacity-
Building Summit and asks how NIDRR proposes to further the summit 
recommendations related to development of young investigators, 
especially individuals from minority serving institutions and 
individuals with disabilities
    Discussion: The commenter is correct. The Plan does not 
specifically refer to research capacity building or to the results 
of the July 2011 summit nor to other NIDRR-sponsored events, 
conferences, or activities. The Plan does state in the background 
section that ``NIDRR is committed to maintaining its focus on 
practical applications of research, development, knowledge 
translation, capacity building, technical assistance, and 
information dissemination to improve the lives of individuals with 
disabilities and their families,'' However, it may not fully clarify 
NIDRR's goal of enhancing capacity to conduct disability and 
rehabilitation research, including its focus on capacity building 
for minority-serving institutions and individuals with disabilities.
    Change: A new Objective 2.4 was added: NIDRR will provide for 
the training of emerging talent and leadership in research and 
development. The objective indicates a special commitment to support 
the development of individuals with disabilities and individuals 
from minority backgrounds.
    Comments: One commenter asked if NIDRR will consider funding 
mechanisms that promote new investigators.
    Discussion: We agree that promoting new investigators is 
important to the future of rehabilitation and disability research. 
However, NIDRR already employs two grant mechanisms with the 
expressed purpose of providing research training to qualified 
individuals, including new investigators--the Advanced 
Rehabilitation Research Training (ARRT) Projects and the Switzer 
Research Fellowship Program. NIDRR also provides funding for 
practical research training of hundreds of graduate students and 
post-doctoral fellows participating in its other programs.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter suggested a review of the Switzer 
Research Fellowship Program to assess the current need for the 
program and how it might better meet the needs of research 
professionals.
    Discussion: We agree that it is important for NIDRR to conduct 
periodic assessments of its various programs. NIDRR is currently 
developing a long-term evaluation plan that will include 
recommendations for evaluating NIDRR programs, including the Switzer 
Research Fellowship Program. In addition, we also anticipate that, 
when formed, the RRAC will advise NIDRR on the relative value of its 
various programs, including the Switzer Research Fellowship Program.
    Change: None.

6. Improve Peer Review Process

    Comments: Comments on peer review either provided specific 
recommendations for improving the peer review process or asked about 
specific methods for improving the peer review process. Two 
commenters asked whether NIDRR would implement standing panels of 
reviewers, while another asked more specifically whether standing 
panels would be created around research stages or domains. One 
commenter suggested that NIDRR does not often recruit new reviewers 
onto its review panels and that it should do so more often. Another 
commenter requested that NIDRR provide additional training to 
reviewers to improve the feedback that they provide to applicants. 
One of the commenters asked specifically how we would recruit 
reviewers with engineering expertise or those with expertise in 
implementing the outputs and products of NIDRR's grants.
    Discussion: NIDRR understands the importance of the peer review 
process. We appreciate the commenters' questions and their 
recommendations for optimizing the quality of our peer review 
process. NIDRR currently maintains a standing panel for its Field-
Initiated Projects (FIPs) program. We anticipate that, as we create 
more opportunities for applicants to submit proposals in response to 
field-initiated research and development priorities, we may be able 
to create standing panels of reviewers to evaluate these 
applications. At the same time, NIDRR continuously and actively 
recruits new, highly-qualified reviewers into its reviewer pool and 
onto its review panels. The Department's policy of allowing 
reviewers to serve on standing panels for no more than three 
consecutive years promotes an effective mix of experienced reviewers 
and those with fresh perspectives. NIDRR will determine how we 
structure the specific expertise on our panels as we develop and 
publish our priorities in the coming years. Regarding training of 
peer reviewers, NIDRR is creating Web-based training tools to 
improve the quality and consistency of training that NIDRR peer 
reviewers receive.
    Change: None.

7. Rehabilitation Research Advisory Council

    Comments: One commenter asked about the relationship between 
NIDRR's approach to knowledge translation and the role of the RRAC. 
Another commenter asked how members of the RRAC will be selected--
whether members will be chosen to represent NIDRR's project areas or 
primary research and development domains, or whether members will be 
selected to represent specific disability types. In addition, this 
commenter asked how NIDRR will structure the RRAC's membership to 
avoid neglect of underserved communities.
    Discussion: We view the RRAC as consistent with, and as a 
contributor to, our KT efforts. A key aspect of KT is to engage 
stakeholders in defining the focus of research and to create methods 
and products of research dissemination that are appropriately 
designed and accessible for those who can improve the lives of 
people with disabilities. This will be a central role of the RRAC 
when formed.
    The primary goals of the RRAC will be to direct attention to the 
most pressing problems facing persons with disabilities collectively 
or within specific subpopulations, to establish research and 
development priorities that address those problems, and to support 
effective methods of getting research and development products to 
people with disabilities and other stakeholders. To do this, we will 
endeavor to have balanced representation on the RRAC of 
subpopulations of persons with disabilities and their families, 
service providers, policymakers, and individuals with expertise in 
research, product development, and information dissemination. 
Members will include representatives of underserved and relatively 
low-incidence disability communities.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked how the RRAC will work with NIDRR 
leadership.
    Discussion: The RRAC will be advisory in its role. We intend to 
listen carefully to the advice of the RRAC and expect to be well 
guided by it. Ultimately, however, after weighing its advice, as 
well as input from people with disabilities and other stakeholders 
and NIDRR's own assessment of

[[Page 20309]]

the state-of-the-science, NIDRR will be responsible for the content, 
balance, and quality of its programs.
    Change: None.
    Comments: Two commenters asked how transparent the RRAC will be 
and to what extent members would communicate with their 
constituencies.
    Discussion: We will gather and make available notes from RRAC 
meetings, but, to facilitate frank and open discussions, no 
attributions to individual members will be made. RRAC members will 
be free, and indeed encouraged, to communicate with their 
constituencies about RRAC discussions and recommendations, NIDRR 
priorities, and the accomplishments of NIDRR programs and projects.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter recommended that the RRAC include 
members with expertise in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 
and other disability law.
    Discussion: While it is not clear in the commenter's assessment 
what might constitute ADA or disability law expertise, the RRAC will 
assuredly include persons very familiar with the ADA and its 
significance to NIDRR-funded research and development.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter suggested that the RRAC coordinate with 
other Federal agencies on disability and rehabilitation research.
    Discussion: We believe this suggestion extends beyond what we 
can reasonably require of the RRAC and its members. Currently NIDRR 
coordinates the Interagency Committee on Disability Research (ICDR), 
as authorized by 29 U.S.C. 763, and is responsible for promoting 
interagency coordination of, and collaboration on, research related 
to the rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities. We are 
committed to active engagement and coordination with other Federal 
agencies and will provide the RRAC with information regarding such 
activities and will solicit advice from the RRAC regarding current 
and potential collaborations. If RRAC members so elect, we are open 
to including Federal agency representatives at RRAC meetings as ex-
officio members or invited participants. This decision will be left 
to the RRAC and its judgment about what will promote the most 
productive discussions.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked for assurances that the RRAC will 
include appropriate advisors, including assistive technology 
providers, engineers, manufacturers, and distributors of assistive 
technologies.
    Discussion: We envision a relatively small, but very well-
informed RRAC, the size of which would preclude representation of 
all such important players in the development, marketing, and 
effective use of assistive technology. We will do our best to ensure 
that RRAC membership has a sophistication about and appreciation of 
assistive technology development and use.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter asked how representatives will be chosen 
and, once chosen, whether information on each individual's 
background and credentials will be made public. Other commenters 
offered to serve as or suggest members to the RRAC.
    Discussion: Requests for nominations (including self-
nominations) to the RRAC will be published in the Federal Register. 
Once nominations have closed, we will select members from among 
nominees based on distribution of knowledge across disability 
populations; familiarity with the challenges faced by all or 
subpopulations of persons with disabilities; familiarity with 
disability research, development, and policy; and direct experience 
with the lived experiences of persons with disabilities. Once 
chosen, the RRAC members, their qualifications, and ways that they 
can be contacted will be publicly available.
    Change: None.

8. NIDRR Capacity To Monitor the Quality of Its Research

    Comments: Two comments addressed the extent to which NIDRR's 
commitment to high-quality research included support of project 
officers in monitoring and evaluating the post-award research 
projects and the extent to which NIDRR will invest in project 
officer development to improve guidance and evaluation of grantees.
    Discussion: NIDRR has always emphasized the importance of 
monitoring, and providing guidance and technical assistance to, its 
grantees. We have invested substantially in a database that 
effectively monitors project tasks, timelines, and product delivery. 
Our staff is well trained and qualified to monitor, evaluate, and 
provide needed technical assistance to grantees. We invest as we can 
in staff development in areas of topical expertise and maximize the 
advantages of being in Washington, DC and its many professional 
development opportunities. We recognize the demands of project 
monitoring are substantial. We believe that moving a greater share 
of our research and development portfolio into field-initiated grant 
programs will allow our project officers to spend less time writing 
NIDRR-directed priorities, and more time monitoring, evaluating, and 
interacting with their grantees.
    Change: None.

9. Evaluation of Plan Goals and Objectives

    Comments: Two commenters suggested that NIDRR define the 
specific outcomes expected to result from the Plan, including 
measures of quality, and prepare an evaluation plan that describes 
how these outcomes will be monitored over time.
    Discussion: We agree that we must gather, analyze, and publicize 
the outcomes of NIDRR programs and pay particular attention to 
outcomes specifically referenced in the Plan. This work is underway. 
We have derived a core set of evaluation measures from our 
electronic Annual Performance Reporting (APR) database to which all 
grantees submit data annually. The APR gathers specific information 
on the status of each NIDRR-funded project, as well as data directly 
relevant to Plan objectives. For example, the APR collects data to 
monitor balance across our three primary domains and broad 
disability groupings by research methodologies employed and the 
distribution of funding levels and types of projects. The APR also 
gathers annual reports on outputs and impacts, ranging from articles 
in peer-reviewed journals, citations of NIDRR-funded research in 
peer-reviewed journals, technologies developed, graduate-school and 
post-doctoral researchers trained, and the nature and extent of 
adoption of research and development products. In addition, we are 
currently developing a 10-year evaluation plan to assess the quality 
and quantity of NIDRR outputs, outcomes, and impacts related to our 
long-range objectives. The evaluation plan will include a variety of 
data collection activities of different periodicities to be carried 
out over a 10-year cycle.
    Change: None.

10. Specific Research Suggestions

    Comments: Commenters suggested that NIDRR ensure that the 
research it funds addresses various financial, cultural, 
psychological, socioeconomic, geographic, and other factors 
affecting persons with disabilities in each of NIDRR's primary 
domains. Commenters further suggested that the Plan would be 
strengthened by emphasizing the interconnections of the individuals' 
biological and psychological well-being and their social and 
economic circumstances. Commenters further suggested that we be 
clear that the health and function domain includes mental health as 
well as physical health, that medical rehabilitation includes 
cognitive rehabilitation, and that we make other clarifications to 
avoid overly narrow interpretations of NIDRR domains.
    Discussion: We have purposely avoided listing the full range of 
impairments and the complex interpersonal and external factors in 
the lives of persons with disabilities and the interactions among 
them. We believe that trying to do so would diminish our focus on 
clear, relevant, and scientifically-sound cases for proposed 
research that will be important to specified populations of persons 
with disabilities. We are confident that our peer reviewers will 
understand the importance of the variety of factors and interactions 
described in the comment and will make recommendations for funding 
based on the adequacy of the proposed research to appropriately 
address both individual and environmental factors.
    Change: None.

11. Attention in Plan to Engineering and Assistive Technology 
Development

    Comments: Nine commenters expressed concern that the Plan 
inadequately reflects NIDRR's commitment to engineering and 
assistive technology development because it does not mention 
``development'' as clearly and frequently as ``research.''
    Discussion: We remain fully committed to engineering and 
assistive technology development, including through our RERC 
program, but we recognize that our Plan may have inadequately 
communicated that commitment.
    Change: We have clarified NIDRR's commitment to engineering and 
assistive technology throughout the document with

[[Page 20310]]

specific references to ``research and development'' and in our 
responses to the related comments that follow.
    Comments: Three commenters suggested that NIDRR should include 
in the Plan a ``stages of development'' framework parallel to the 
``stages of research'' framework to demonstrate NIDRR's commitment 
to development projects and to guide the applications of those who 
propose development projects.
    Discussion: NIDRR agrees with this comment.
    Change: In our discussion in Objective 2.2--Develop and adopt a 
framework for development to support the design, creation, testing, 
and uptake of assistive technology, engineering, and other products 
to improve the lives of people with disabilities, we have stated our 
intention to work with stakeholders to develop and adopt a framework 
for development projects.
    Comments: Two commenters suggested that NIDRR explicitly 
recognize the importance of assistive technology for addressing 
communication impairments, including communication impairments of 
individuals with low-incidence conditions.
    Discussion: We agree that such specification is warranted.
    Change: The Technology for Access and Function section of the 
Plan has been revised to recognize the importance of assistive 
technology that enhances communication capabilities, including for 
individuals from low-incidence populations.
    Comments: One commenter recommended that the term ``universal 
design'' be referenced in multiple places in the Plan.
    Discussion: We are committed to the concept of universal design, 
that is, the design of products and environments to be useable by 
all people without the need for adaptations or special design. We 
are proud of NIDRR's foundational work in the development and 
implementation of the concept of universal design. We do not, 
however, believe that the concept needs to be repeated throughout 
the Plan.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter recommended that NIDRR expand its 
description of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program 
to be more inclusive of research related to training methodologies 
and dissemination techniques.
    Discussion: We agree that, as written in the proposed Plan, the 
SBIR program may seem limited to the production of assistive and 
rehabilitation technologies. However, NIDRR's SBIR program grants 
have been and are awarded for projects that (1) Meet NIDRR's broad 
definition of research and development, (2) appear to have 
commercial potential, and (3) are related to disability and 
rehabilitation. We do not think it is advisable to potentially 
narrow NIDRR's broad definition of research and development by 
enumerating specific categories of permitted research.
    Change: The Plan language concerning the SBIR program has been 
modified to indicate that ``SBIR grants support the design and 
production of new assistive and rehabilitation technologies, 
including research, development, training, and dissemination 
products with commercial potential and benefit to persons with 
disabilities.''
    Comments: One commenter recommended that NIDRR expressly 
acknowledge that individuals with disabilities interact with several 
environments, including specifically and increasingly a 
technological environment.
    Discussion: We agree. Technology advances and changes at great 
speed and must be kept accessible and usable by all individuals. 
Increasingly people with disabilities interact in physical, social, 
and technological environments.
    Change: The Technology for Access and Function section of the 
Plan has been revised to reflect the importance of the technology 
environment with which persons with disabilities interact. 
Specifically, and as discussed in prior, related comments, an 
objective for creating and adopting a framework for technology 
development has been added to the Plan. Further, the relevant 
sentence in the Technology for Access and Function section has been 
rewritten to provide that NIDRR will focus on assistive technology 
devices that enhance the physical, sensory, cognitive, and 
communication capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
    Comments: One commenter asked why we do not express intent to 
engage manufacturers and clinicians who are responsible for 
delivering interventions to the target audiences through commercial 
market mechanisms.
    Discussion: We believe this is inherent to the development 
process and will be conveyed through the proposed ``stages of 
development'' framework.
    Change: None.

12. Products and Industry

    Comments: One commenter expressed concern about the lack of 
mention of ``products'' and ``industry'' (along with ``policies'' 
and ``practices'') in the Plan's introduction.
    Discussion: We agree that including the word ``products'' will 
make the statement more comprehensive and better represent NIDRR's 
intent. We do not believe that ``industry'' warrants inclusion as we 
did not intend to list the parties involved in the development of 
such policies, practices, and products.
    Change: The final paragraph in the Introduction to the Plan was 
revised to read: ``NIDRR's portfolio of research and development 
activities will range from the identification of the needs and 
opportunities of individuals with disabilities to the widespread 
implementation of effective, evidence-based policies, practices, and 
products that respond to those needs and opportunities. NIDRR 
recognizes that the development of effective, evidence-based 
policies, practices, and products is as dependent on the exploration 
and description stage of research and development as it is on 
experimental and quasi-experimental trials and other well-designed 
tests of potentially effective interventions, programs, and 
products.''

13. Primary Domains of Focus

    Comments: There were two comments suggesting that, by focusing 
on topical domains, NIDRR ``obscures the specificity of needs within 
each disability group'' and that RRTCs should focus on specific 
disability populations rather than on broad domains.
    Discussion: We understand this concern, particularly among those 
stakeholders focused on certain specific conditions. Many RRTCs are 
focused on an intersection of broad disability category (e.g., 
psychiatric, cognitive/developmental, physical, or sensory 
impairments) and one of our primary domains (e.g., an RRTC on 
employment of persons with psychiatric disability). We understand 
that the commenters might not view a distinction such as physical 
disability as sufficiently precise to capture the ``specificity of 
needs'' of all persons who might have one of many different 
conditions or impairments causing physical disability. Funding 
limitations simply preclude NIDRR from paying specific attention to 
many impairments and conditions that might benefit from designated 
RRTCs. We have committed to expanding funding of field-initiated 
programs to allow applicants to make a case for the value of 
programs in one or more domains that would focus on the specific 
needs of subpopulations within broad categories such as physical 
disability. We feel that there is sufficient flexibility within our 
broad domains for applicants to address the needs of subpopulations 
with specific disabilities or to attend to specific subtopics within 
the broader domains. The peer review process will assess the value 
of these proposals. We are concerned that efforts to further specify 
populations and topics of interest would only reduce perceived 
opportunities for applicants to propose well-designed and innovative 
projects that address the wide variety of potential subtopics and 
subpopulations.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter noted that we did not provide a 
rationale for the ordering of domains, specifically that employment 
was listed first, followed by community living and participation and 
then health and function. In the commenter's judgment, health and 
function should be listed first because it is relevant to all 
persons with disabilities, while the others pertain to a subset.
    Discussion: We mean to convey no priority with regard to the 
ordering of NIDRR's three primary domains. We are also committed to 
the proposition that employment and community living and 
participation will someday, with the assistance of sound research, 
not pertain to just a subset of persons with disabilities.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter noted that the Plan regards research on 
health and function as critical to well-being across the lifespan, 
but it does not define lifespan.
    Discussion: We intended ``across the lifespan'' to mean for 
persons of all ages. We believe that lifespan issues may be studied 
cross-sectionally (health issues tend to be different for people of 
different ages and with different disabilities) and they may be 
studied longitudinally (an individual's health

[[Page 20311]]

issues change over time but may be affected by lifestyle and 
directed interventions). We would welcome well-designed research and 
development projects with either (or another) focus.
    Change: None.
    Comments: One commenter suggested that community living and 
participation as a domain does not sufficiently reflect the 
importance of social relationships.
    Discussion: We are committed to people with disabilities being 
both in the community and part of the community. We welcome 
applications that design and evaluate interventions that go beyond 
physical integration to achieving social inclusion and interpersonal 
relationships.
    Change: None.

14. Centers of Excellence

    Comments: Two commenters asked for clarification of the 
expectations about the concept of ``Centers of Excellence.''
    Discussion: ``Centers of National Excellence'' is a term that 
was added to the description of RRTCs by Congress in the last 
reauthorization of NIDRR. RRTCs, as Centers of Excellence, are 
expected to serve as ``national resource centers'' for the topics 
and populations they address. We agree with the commenter that 
introduction of the new term ``Centers of Excellence'' to describe 
RRTCs is unnecessarily confusing.
    Change: In the RRTC criteria, we will continue to require that 
RRTCs serve as ``national resource centers'' and continue to expect 
excellence from them, but we will eliminate the designation of 
``Centers of Excellence.''

15. Types of Programs Within the NIDRR Portfolio

    Comments: Two commenters indicated that the information about 
the types of programs that are administered by NIDRR is not clear.
    Discussion: NIDRR's programs are designated in its authorizing 
legislation located in sections 200 through 205 of the 
Rehabilitation Act, as amended. We manage these programs in a manner 
consistent with the authorizing statute, regulations established in 
34 CFR parts 350 through 359, and annual appropriations bills.
    Change: None.
[FR Doc. 2013-07879 Filed 4-3-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4000-01-P