Meet the Fellows – A Quick Look at the NIDILRR Switzer Fellowships

We often highlight the work of the large NIDILRR-funded centers that conduct several research and development projects over three or five years. Today, we want to look at NIDILRR’s Switzer Fellows program. Unlike most of NIDILRR’s grants which generally go universities, rehabilitation hospitals, and other institutions, the Fellowships are awarded to individuals. The purpose of the Switzer Research Fellow Program is to build research capacity by providing support to highly qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, to perform research on rehabilitation, independent living, and other experiences and outcomes of individuals with disabilities. Over one year, these researchers conduct studies, analyze data, and present and publish their results. As you can see from the descriptions of the most recent fellows, their research covers a wide array of topics!

Michelle S. Ballan, PhD, Advancing Evidence-Informed Responses to Intimate Partner Violence Among Women with Disabilities.

This project refines and pilot tests The Empowerment Focused Intervention, an intervention for female survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) with disabilities. Women with disabilities face unique risk factors for IPV and experience higher rates of abuse than women without disabilities, yet research on the problem is limited and services tailored to their diverse needs are scarce. The Empowerment Focused Intervention is a novel, IPV intervention that addresses the complex interplay of health-related, social, and vocational factors impacting women with disabilities. Learn more about Dr. Ballan’s research.

Lynn C. Koch, PhD, Participation of Students with Chronic Pain in Post-Secondary Education: A Grounded Theory Investigation.

The goal of this project is to understand the lived experience of postsecondary students with chronic pain with the aim of supporting their success. Among traditional aged college students, prevalence rates for chronic pain have been estimated to be anywhere from 7.6 to 14.3 percent. In-depth interviews with research participants lead to: (a) gaining a better understanding of how chronic pain influences and is influenced by participation in postsecondary education, (b) determining what misperceptions about chronic pain interfere with full participation, (c) identifying services and supports that facilitate active participation in postsecondary education, and (d) considering how chronic pain factors into decisions about academic majors. Learn more about Dr. Koch’s research.

Anthony Plotner, PhD, Centers for Independent Living and Transition Collaboration: Examining Roles, Communication, and Collaborative Structure to Enhance Youth Outcomes.

This project examines Center for Independent Living (CIL) professionals’ perceptions of their understanding of and collaboration with school-based transition professionals. Specifically, the study explores role understanding, frequency of communication, as well as perceptions of how CIL and Local Education Agencies transition can be enhanced. Learn more about Dr. Plotner’s research.

Jennifer Sanchez, PhD, Evaluating the Efficacy of a Group Intervention to Improve Workplace Soft Skills for Transition-Aged Youth with Psychiatric Disabilities.

This project evaluates the effectiveness of a social skills intervention, Skills to Pay the Bills, to improve workplace socialization skills for transition-aged youth with psychiatric disabilities. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) created Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success, with the purpose of improving work-related social skills in high school students with disabilities. The study evaluates Skills to Pay the Bills in a randomized controlled trial research design in which participants with psychiatric disabilities are randomly assigned to the treatment or waitlist control group and researchers compare the experimental and control groups on pretest and posttest outcome measures. Learn more about Dr. Sanchez’ research.

Morris Huang, PhD. Implementation of a Sensor Platform for Multi-Day Measurement of Manual Wheelchair User Mobility Patterns in Real-World Environments to Inform Clinical Training and Improved Contexts for Research.

The goal of this project is to validate and implement a sensor platform that serves as a clinical assessment and research tool by characterizing multi-day, real-world mobility patterns of manual wheelchair users (MWUs). This project leverages existing sensor technology and wheelchair monitoring methodologies to optimize a combined sensor platform based on performance metrics critical to multi-day measurement of wheelchair kinematics and surface slope (e.g. sensor placement, accuracy, drift). Learn more about Dr. Huang’s research.

Elizabeth Koss Schmidt, PhD, OTR/L. Understanding Sexuality and Community Participation in Adults on the Autism Spectrum.

Autistic adults are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or other (LGBTQIA+). Individuals who identify as autistic and LGBTQIA+ live at the intersection of two groups that have experienced discrimination in community living and participation. Therefore, this research aims to describe community participation among LGBTQIA+ autistic adults and develop an approach or support congruent with their perceived needs. Learn more about Dr. Schmidt’s research.

Hannah Warner Mercier, PhD, OTR/L. Characterizing Patterns of Depression, Community Mobility, and Social Engagement in Sub-Acute Spinal Cord Injury.

The aims of this research study are to: (1) investigate the patterns of depression, community mobility, and social engagement via digital methods, and determine the time-dependent interactions between these patterns over four months of community living among adults with subacute SCI; and to (2) examine the impact of minimally-obtrusive smartphone-based feedback on psychosocial wellbeing in adults with subacute SCI. Learn more about Dr. Mercier’s research.

Allison Brooke Taylor, PhD, MSW. Trauma-Informed Care in Centers for Independent Living.

This research project aims to improve outcomes for people with disabilities who have experienced trauma by developing a framework for trauma-informed independent living systems and services, using knowledge gained through an in-depth ethnographic study of a Center for Independent Living (CIL). The study uses the Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) model developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) as a starting framework and explores the ways it can be adapted and enhanced by incorporating CIL philosophy, policies, and practices to promote full inclusion for people with disabilities. Learn More about Dr. Taylor’s research.

More than 250 Switzer Fellows are indexed in the NIDILRR Program Database, spanning more than 35 years of capacity building. Many of the Switzer Fellows have gone on to lead larger, multi-year centers funded by NIDILRR, the National Institutes of Health, and other institutions and organizations. This program even included one NIDILRR Director (Robert Jaeger, PhD). Scroll through the history of Switzer Fellows in the Program Database and browse through more than 330 publications of their work indexed in the REHABDATA database.

Are you a researcher interested in applying for a NIDILRR Switzer Fellowship? The forecast for the next opportunity was published July 20th, 2021. Click the Subscribe link on that page to learn when applications will be accepted or sign up for the NIDILRR Announcements list to learn about this and other funding opportunities.

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