National Center for the
Dissemination of Disability Research

Webcast 19
Policy Implications for Disability and Rehabilitation Research Quality

September 17, 2009, 2:00 PM (CDT)

About the Webcast

The NCDDR hosted a webcast on September 17, 2009 for NIDRR grantees and other individuals interested in the impacts of current and future federal policy directives upon the quality of disability and rehabilitation research. Panelists included high-level representatives from federal disability-related agencies and disability organizations.

Panelists addressed policy issues impacting disability and rehabilitation research, particularly in light of the current economic climate and the new administration. They also explored their perceptions about how policy affects the quality of research and discussed their visions and goals for the future of the disability and rehabilitation field. NIDRR grantees volunteered to serve as respondents. The moderator was Dr. John Westbrook. This activity was sponsored through the NCDDR's Community of Practice on Research Quality.

About the Panelists

Michael Collins, Executive Director, National Council on Disability.
Mr. Collins has been executive director of the National Council on Disability (NCD) since June 2007. Mr. Collins previously served as executive director of the California State Independent Living Council for over 10 years. He has enjoyed a varied "disability career" before moving to our nation's capital, including more than seven years as a consultant and trainer on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accessibility and disability awareness. He also served as an appointee to the Governor's Committee on Disability Issues & Employment and the Independent Living Advisory Council in Washington State, the Small Business Advisory Council, and he currently serves on several disability-related national advisory bodies.

Robert "Bobby" Silverstein, Director, Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy and Principal, Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, PC.
Mr. Silverstein is a principal in the law firm of Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, PC. He has a federal regulatory and legislative practice in the areas of disability, health care, rehabilitation, employment, education, social security, and civil rights. Mr. Silverstein also serves as the director of the Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy. He served as an Associate Professor of Health Care Sciences in The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Mr. Silverstein served in various staff capacities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate between 1985 and 1997, including serving as staff director and chief counsel for the Subcommittee on Disability Policy of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.

(Unable to participate) Richard Horne, EdD, Director, Division of Policy Planning & Research, US Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy.

NIDRR grantees participating in the live webcast as respondents included Dr. Brian McMahon, Dr. Tom Seekins, Dr. Paul Baker, and Dr. Margaret Nosek. Drs. Baker, McMahon, and Seekins have also provided the following written reactions to the panelist discussion. Interested parties are invited to submit their own reactions to the webcast or to the respondents’ comments to
For more information on the webcast series, see

Dr. Paul Baker, Georgia Tech, RERC on Workplace Accommodations

Bobby Silverstein and Michael Collins both hit key points critical in terms of the impact of policy and the role of research in crafting policy. Further:

  1. To elaborate on this point, too often policy is crafted by default with the strongest and loudest voices influencing the development of legislation and subsequent policy. While this is not necessarily a criticism, we argue that the proactive inclusion of objective research, as well as empirically based decision-making, can lead to more equitable policy initiatives.
  2. Following this theme, another key issue is, in fact, active engagement in collaboration among researchers, between researchers and funding agencies, and between agencies, as well. While these relationships are achieved, in some respects, through the operation of the ICDR, there are other dimensions in which this has been suboptimal in the past. The classic example, of course, is the lack of harmonization between agencies that led to interoperability issues between cell phones and hearing aids. We see the problem of robust collaboration as really important and one of the problems is the lack of a common language of communication; frequently we come out of many different disciplines and many specialties. One of the advantages or one of the things we should work toward is developing common ways of speaking -- not just so that we understand what we ourselves and our constituents are talking about, but also in terms of a coherent common message that we can communicate to policymakers.
  3. Mike talked about repetition and one of the reasons or ways one uses the tool of repetition is to repeat a coherent, clear message. It was unclear in my comments, but I believe we are on the same page. The results of some of the research we have conducted over the years, using survey and online policy Delphis, repeatedly points out the need for ongoing education and awareness initiatives and continued ongoing outreach efforts. While it may seem a bit distressing that these basic efforts – repeating the message – need to be made, it probably merits noting that while the message is the same, the recipients continue to change. So in another sense, we can take satisfaction in knowing overall there is probably a greater awareness of disability issues, but that it is a nonstop effort.
  4. Another critical policy related issue relates to statistics. There are several dimensions of statistics. First, there is the value of statistics purely as a matter of capturing the dimensions of the problem. From a purely technical standpoint this relates to the weight or the impact of the problem when determining the allocation of scarce resources, be it direct assistance or research monies. More broadly, there is the political weight. Better statistics can more compellingly make the case to policymakers of the dimensions of the issues and concerns of people with disabilities. By more accurately capturing the nature and specifics of the issues involved, it is easier to make a coherent and compelling argument for greater attention, and resources being placed on issues of concern to the disability community. An interesting anecdotal story that highlights this issue was Paul’s recent attendance at a conference in Europe dealing with mobile (wireless) accessibility and participation. Whereas our statistics here could be much better, there are virtually no consistent statistics dealing with disabilities in the EU. This, of course, is a function of attempting to harmonize and coordinate stats being collected at different times and using different approaches. However it does underscore, from a policy standpoint, the difficulty in getting a handle or a grip on the dimensions of the problems when one doesn't have any grounding or firm empirical basis to draw on.
  5. I would like to touch on some of the work we are doing that deals with policy collaborations, particularly in virtual and online settings; something that we're very interested in. We are exploring the use of online platforms and social media in several dimensions. These deal with exploring the application of information based tools to facilitate and coordinate research activities – something we have very successful implemented with colleagues from Syracuse University and University of Central Florida extramurally, as well as with several units of Georgia Tech intramurally. We are also doing some analysis of the way in which public sector agencies apply Web 2.0 and other advanced technologies, focusing on developing best practices and tools more effective Web 2.0 and social networking activities. Finally as part of a large project we are looking at the role digital media in allowing increased access and participation to employment opportunities for people with disabilities as well as exploring the possibilities these technologies offer for the creation of new job opportunities.
  6. Finally, in responding to Dr. McMahon’s comments, while we do recognize the need for increase focus on the military and the opportunities the military potentially represents, I personally believe that an emphasis on developing better, more robust, and empirically based policy, focusing on communication and online information flow, will dramatically aid in improving the participation and engagement of people with disabilities in society.

Dr. Brian McMahon, Virginia Commonwealth University, CORC

  1. There is a need to "shine a light" on employers who responsible and are going well beyond ADA compliance is very important. American businesses are the world’s best plagiarists (in a positive sense) and will copy human resources practices that are working well. ODEP is "all over" this issue recently and should be commended.
  2. Comments on Olmstead and work disincentives were also on target.
  3. It is true that as M.S. level professionals, state-federal VR counselors lag far behind the marketplace n terms of competitive salaries.
  4. Stimulus funds were applied for and received by rehabilitation researchers, but the number of senior "grant-getters" has largely exhausted its FTE (i.e., they are fully funded already) and serious attention must be made to the replacement needs for competent researchers.

A good source of research funding is available from the Department of Defense under the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program in terms of medical, psychosocial, and family rehabilitation as well as assistive technology.

Regarding the mention that was made of the need for "fresh" research issues: A research and demonstration project is needed to explore the eligibility and recruitment of Americans with disabilities to serve in a voluntary military. Military service is a means of access to higher education, career development, upward mobility, healthcare, and escape from poverty for every protected class. In the year 2009, can we not waive the absolute requirement that all military personnel must be combat ready? Are there not accommodations that can be made in terms of the remote conduct of war? Are there not non-combat military job classifications that do not involve combat, and are identical to jobs performed in the civilian sector? In articulating his position on "don’t ask-don’t tell," the President recently stated that military service is a right and privilege of citizenship. As such, access is a fundamental right.

Dr. Tom Seekins, University of Montana, RRTC on Disability in Rural Communities

The World Health Organization recently revised the International Classification of Function, Disability, and Health (ICF). The ecological view of disability significantly influenced the major changes. Specifically, the ICF placed a new focus on environmental influences on disability and on "participation" as the gold standard for outcome measurement. These changes call for investments in research to establish measures of the environment and participation, research to explore their empirical relationship, and the evaluation of interventions involving environmental variables to promote participation. Without data to support the ecological view, it will remain an interesting ideological perspective but may simply fade from scientific discourse.

NIDRR supports research and science under the new paradigm or ecological model of disability. Its support of research and science in these areas provides some of the only examples of how the goals of the ICF might be achieved. This means that it supports research and science that explores the environment and participation in community life. In contrast, NIH focuses on the biological and medical aspects of disability. To my knowledge, there is no other agency whose mission includes examining the environment’s (physical and social) contribution to disability, nor uses meaningful participation in community life as the "gold standard" of outcome. For example, NIDRR funding supported the development of the very concept of Universal Design.

Research on the environment’s influence on disability will help better understand disability and ways of enhancing participation. Perhaps as important, such research will have implications for understanding issues of adjustment and quality of life for us all.

Individuals who are interested in becoming a member of the NCDDR Community of Practice on Research Quality and participating in events such as webcasts or other CoP activities are encouraged to contact Brenda Lightfoot ( for further information.

Download Materials

Presentation Materials (View the PowerPoint file and listen to the archive audio file/read the transcript.)

Download edited transcript of the webcast (MS Word 202kb)     

This webcast is supported through SEDL's National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR), funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), part of the U.S. Department of Education.

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NCDDR is funded by the
National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
Project Number: H133A060028
U.S. Department of Education