Funding for Universal Design Research

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The National Institute on Disabilityand Rehabiltation Research has released their proposed funding priorities. The Public Comment period for these proposed priorities ends March 29, 2004.

A priority for Universal Design and the Built Environment was announced. This is good news for those of us researching and promoting inclusive travel. The travel and hospitality industry, among others, is faced with increasing demand for the expertise provided by researchers in this field.

However the proposal contains a change in the very nature of the research centers (RERCs) studying universal design and the built environment. In effect, it gives them a second mandate -- and less-than-full funding.

1) NIDRR is requiring two distinct areas to be investigated in one RERC: a) the built environment and b) anthropometric data collection and databases.

We believe there is enough work to be done in both of those fields to warrant maximum funding for such an RERC. It is highly unlikely that NIDRR will split these topics into two RERCís at this time due to their own budgetary cutbacks. The current usual amount of funding for an RERC is approximately $900,000/year. In some cases NIDRR has awarded $1.2 million/year for an RERC. To ensure that both topics are adequately funded, we recommend that the proposed RERC on the Built Environment be funded at the maximum $1.2 million level.

2) There is already a limited emphasis on the study of the built environment through NIDRR funding at this time. It must be recognized that by proposing only one RERC on UD and the Built Environment (which will be tasked with the anthropometric studies) is decreasing the already limited amount of funding to NIDRRís research on the built environment. Currently there are 21 RERCíS with only two (9.5%)with a major focus on the built environment :

∑ UD and the Built Environment: Buffalo
∑ UD and the Built Environment: Raleigh

Two others have a very topic specific focus that examine some aspects of the built environment:

∑ RERC on Workplace Accommodations,
∑ RERC on Accessible Public Transportation

Raleigh and Buffalo are the only RERCís that have focused on both residential and non-residential environments and their work has made a major contribution to the future design of the larger society both nationally and internationally.

There is clearly an uneven distribution of emphasis on the built environment: All other RERCís (17) focus on assistive technologies, and/or prosthetics and orthotics.

3) There is the need to focus on the built environment and NIDRR will be decreasing emphasis in this area with proposed funding levels. The built environment was emphasized in

∑ The Presidentís New Freedom Initiative,
∑ NIDRRís Long Range Plan and
∑ NIDRRís recognition of the World Health Organizationís ICF (International Classification of Functioning).

All of these recognize the built environment as important barrier or facilitator to persons with disabilities. However, NIDRRís proposed distribution of funding will reduce efforts in this area.


If you agree that a focus on the built environment is essential, that adequate funding must be allocated to both the built environment and to anthropometrics, then please send in your concerns to at NIDRR by March 29, 2004. Please feel free to use any portion of this letter in your comments.

Contact Information:

Donna Nangle,
U.S. Department of Education,
400 Maryland Avenue, SW.,
Room 3412,
Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-2645.

If you prefer to send your comments through the Internet, use the following address: donna.nangle@ed.gov.

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