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Center grant awarded for research on disability access to telecommunications

Standard telecommunications systems could become more accessible thanks to a five-year, $3,375,000 Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education. This grant is in addition to a 5-year grant from RERC on Information Technology Access ($6.75 million).

Gregg C. Vanderheiden, industrial engineering professor and director of the Trace Research and Development Center at UW-Madison and Judith E. Harkins, associate professor of communication arts and director of the Technical Assistance Program at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., are principal investigators on the grant.

Cell phone design
A cellular phone design that meets all of the FCC proposed access requirements (22K GIF)


The focus of the Telecommunications Access RERC is to identify strategies for making standard telecommunications systems more directly usable by people with all types and degrees of disability, and to work with industry and government to put access strategies into place. The RERC's research program takes on new significance and immediacy with the Federal Communications Commission's recent adoption of regulations requiring all standard telecommunications products to be designed to be accessible and usable by people with disabilities wherever this is readily achievable.

"Telecommunications will be changing and advancing dramatically over the next 5 to 10 years," says Vanderheiden. "The purpose of this center grant is to see to it that people with disabilities - and all of us as we age - will be able to take advantage of these new technologies, allowing us to all live more independently and fully."

Technologies being addressed by the RERC include: customer premises equipment of all types (phones, video phones, pagers, messaging systems, etc.), telecommunication systems and services (voice mail, interactive voice response systems, etc.), network topologies, telecommunications standards, and next-generation multimedia telecommunication systems (telecollaboration, virtual meetings, etc.).

Access strategies will include design changes or added features for standard products, as well as ensuring compatibility with current assistive technologies such as TTY's, assistive listening devices, alternative input devices, and devices with alternate displays. The RERC's research program will include both current generation technologies and exploratory research on access to future telecommunication technologies. In its Applied Research and Development program, the RERC will work on proof-of-concept models and pre-standards research and development. The RERC's Transfer and Technical Assistance Program will focus in the areas of standard-setting, development of model implementations, development of resource and reference tools, and provision of technical support to industry, government, and consumer groups.

More information is available at the following website: or