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Telecommunications access RERC grant awarded to Trace Center

Gregg C. Vanderheiden

Gregg C. Vanderheiden (large image)

The Trace Research and Development Center has received a $4.25 million Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The grant will focus on advancing accessibility and usability in existing and emerging telecommunications products for people with all types of disabilities.

This Telecom RERC is a partnership between the Trace Center and Gallaudet University's Technology Access Program and is one of 23 RERCs in the United States. Each RERC has a unique focus but all conduct research leading to technology advances that directly benefit people with disabilities. The Trace Center is also funded as the RERC on Universal Interface and Information Technology Access.

A large part of this new center grant will fund research and development directly related to the rapidly emerging voice-over-IP (VoIP) technologies and other IP-based systems to ensure that they are accessible and usable by people with hearing impairments, blindness and other disabilities. Other projects address emergency communication accessibility, problems that people using hearing aids or cochlear implants have with digital phones, visual communication technologies, and phone accessibility and usability for people with cognitive impairments.

The RERC's research and development program addresses telecommunications accessibility along all three of its major dimensions: user interface; transmission, including digitization and compression; and modality translation services such as relay services and gateways. In addition, RERC researchers provide technical assistance to government, industry and consumers and are called upon frequently to provide expert testimony for the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Access Board, and numerous U.S. and international industry standards groups.

Directed by Biomedical Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace is an internationally recognized leader in the field of technology and disability access. Founded by a group of engineering students more than 30 years ago, the center initially developed early communication aids for people with disabilities that limited their ability to speak or write. With the advent of personal computers, Trace pioneered development of techniques for making standard computers accessible for people with a variety of disabilities.

Throughout the past 15 years, the center's research and development has focused designing standard information technologies and telecommunications to be more accessible for people with disabilities. Key achievements have included development of accessibility features that are now built in to Windows, Macintosh OS and other standard systems, and development of interface techniques for making standard technologies-including cell phones and public systems-more accessible and usable by people with all types of disabilities.