This month marks the 43rd anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act), originally passed in 1973. In 2013, we highlighted the importance of the Rehab Act and what it has meant to the inclusion of people with disabilities. Foremost to us here at NARIC, the Rehab Act established what would become the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), the reason we’re here and blogging with you! For some members of the NARIC team, the Rehab Act has very personal significance.
The Rehab Act authorized the research activities of NIDILRR. These activities included the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs), the Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs), the Model Spinal Cord Injury System (SCI) Centers, and field-initiated projects in education, telecommunications, assistive and rehabilitation technology, independent living, and employment. NIDILRR’s research program would eventually include the ADA National Network, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIRs), Model Systems for Traumatic Brain Injury and Burn Injury, and training centers and fellowships to build capacity and opportunity for emerging scholars. All of these have had real impact on the staff of NARIC.
Project Director Mark Odum
It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be here at NARIC without the Rehab Act for many reasons. Professionally, I have worked with the NIDILRR community since NARIC’s earliest days at Catholic University. In more than 35 years, I’ve watched the body of NIDILRR-funded research grow to the diverse collection we maintain today. As a person with a spinal cord injury, the research and development from more than 40 years from the RERCs and Model SCI Centers have made it possible for me to live and work much longer than I would have believed when I was injured in 1974. Model Systems research in secondary conditions, pain management, skin care, physical activity, and community integration all mean I now live and work independently, long past the years they told me I would. I live in a universally designed home and cheer on the Ravens and Orioles in accessible stadiums, I commute in an accessible van and ride one of the most accessible public transportation systems in the world, and my workplace is inclusive. Personal powered mobility has become more advanced, but in some ways more frustrating. Early into my disability I used a $1,400 scooter invented in a garage and now am in a $40k power chair, that although much more comfortable, is much less dependable: When it does break down, it takes a month to get running again instead of a day or two (at the most). There is definitely room for new research and development in this area, along with some old-fashioned customer service. All in all, I’m excited to see what the future will bring!
Media Specialist Catherine Graves
The Rehab Act, and the work of the NIDILRR community in particular, have definitely had an impact on me professionally and personally. As a person with a chronic, sometimes invisible disability, research in employment, workplace accommodations, and advocacy have all been important to creating an inclusive workplace. I know my company has the information and tools we need to make sure we can stay healthy and productive at work. Personally, the research in arthritis and exercise has helped me to focus on increasing my physical activity safely so I can reduce pain and get out into the community.
Writer Arielle Silverman, PhD
The biggest impact that NIDILRR has had on my life is by funding a two-year postdoctoral training experience with the University of Washington where I learned about disability and rehabilitation research, expanded my repertoire of research techniques, and gained opportunities for publication and academic networking. As a person with a disability, the postdoc was particularly valuable in helping me learn how to engage in participatory research designed by people with disabilities. NIDILRR’s support for universal design in information and communication technology, as well as federal mandates outlined in the Rehab Act, have been critical to my professional development. I use the Web on a daily basis in my work as a self-employed research consultant, so accessible websites are crucial for me to perform my job responsibilities efficiently. Personally and professionally, the technology developed through NIDILRR’s SBIR program has been essential to my independence. I use Sendero GPS products, developed under NIDILRR grants, and I can say that I have moved twice and during both moves, Sendero GPS and maps were helpful in enhancing my independent exploration of new cities.
In addition to establishing NIDILRR, The Rehab Act is a key piece of civil rights legislation, prohibiting discrimination by the Federal government against people with disabilities in employment, benefits, program participation, and in how the government uses information technology. The Act established the protection and advocacy system, and grants for vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, and independent living as well. The Rehab Act also established the National Council on Disability. Along with the ADA and IDEA, the Rehab Act enshrines the concept that disability rights are human rights.
You might be surprised to learn how the work of the NIDILRR community has impacted the lives of people with disabilities across the lifespan, from early childhood education to the rights of parents with disabilities to aging with disabilities. Explore the current projects funded by NIDILRR and see how their research and development activities are shaping the future of independent living for people with disabilities.