Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Technology for the Disabled

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disabilities and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) awarded 16 SBIR grants for $75,000 each to small businesses to develop technology to make life and learning easier for individuals with disabilities.

NIDRR’s SBIR program has two phases. Phase I determines the scientific or technical merit of the idea with awards made for up to six months for a maximum of $75,000 and Phase II projects awarded to expand on the previous results for up to two years and a maximum of $500,000.

“The projects awarded are designed to help people with disabilities maximize their job productivity and economic self-sufficiency,” said Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

Some of the awardees and projects are:

• AbleLink Technologies, Inc.— to develop a remote scheduling management and monitoring system to support personal scheduling by individuals with intellectual and cognitive disabilities plus develop a cloud-based activity support system

• CreateAbility Concepts, Inc.— to develop a talking Smartphone and tablet application to help people who are blind or visually impaired to fully be able to use devices with visual flat-panel displays

• Institute for Disabilities Research and Training, Inc.—to develop computer and online software providing ASL translation and publishing capabilities

• Assistech Systems LLC—to further develop “HealthChecker” an accessible web-based application for self-assessment of personal health and wellness by individuals with cognitive disabilities

In another program, NIDRR’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) conduct advanced research to apply advanced technology to solve rehabilitation problems and remove environmental barriers. Each center is affiliated with one or more institutions of higher education or nonprofit organizations to find the newest technologies, products, and methods that can help individuals maintain their independence in spite of living with disabilities.

The NIDRR “Wireless RERC” is funded to promote universal access and use of mobile wireless technologies and explore innovative applications for people with disabilities. The Wireless RERC works directly with consumers by assessing the usability of wireless products by users with disabilities, creating an online forum, and promote awareness about accessible wireless options with consumers and providers.

Currently, the Wireless RERC has several projects under development:

• Prototype systems for location-based services in public places

• Next-generation, digital emergency alerts to ensure equitable access to emergency information by people with disabilities over wireless networks and devices

• Prototypes of universal interfaces that accommodate diverse user abilities

• Guidelines and tools for the design of wireless interfaces that will accommodate users with visual limitations

The Wireless RERC is also involved in regulatory activities. The RERC examines and analyzes accessibility policy issues related to the use of wireless communications and other information technologies. Key activities include regulatory filings, producing policy brief and timely advisories to stakeholders on municipal wireless networks, emergency communications. and related issues.

The RERC has developed a “Collaborative Policy Network” to bring together experts on various aspects of the policy process in the telecommunications and IT related fields. The plan is for the Network to provide support internally to the RERC and to other RERCs in the field.

The RERC also created “SUNspot” to share findings from the ongoing “Survey of User Needs (SUN). This survey focuses on the use and usability of wireless technology by people with disabilities. The information is shared with manufacturers and carriers, as well as with policymakers and SUN data is used in guiding industry and government initiatives.

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