In October 2004, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the U.S. Department of Education, awarded a five-year, Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) grant to the Trace Research & Development Center, University of Wisconsin - Madison, working in partnership with the Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
The primary mission of the Telecommunications Access RERC is to advance accessibility and usability in existing and emerging telecommunications products for people with all types of disabilities. Telecommunications accessibility is addressed along all three of its major dimensions: user interface, transmission (including digitization, compression, etc.), and modality translation services (relay services, gateways, etc.). The RERC looks at advances that have both short- and long-term outcomes related to assistive technologies (AT), interoperability, and universal design of telecommunications.
A large part of the RERC’s research and development program will be directly related to the rapidly emerging Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies and other IP-based systems. Our goal is to help ensure that these new technologies are accessible and usable by people with hearing impairments, blindness, and other disabilities.
The research and development program of this RERC covers three areas:
- Development of tools, techniques, and performance-based measures that can be used to evaluate current and evolving telecommunication technologies. Included in this area are two projects to define the essential audio and video characteristics of IP telecommunication needed to support sign language, video relay interpreting, IP based speech, and lipreading.
- Solving the problems faced by individuals using hearing aids or cochlear implants with digital phones. Three projects cover both digital cellular and home cordless phones, and are focused on quantifying the problem, identifying solutions, providing tools that users can employ to match appropriate hearing technologies with telecommunication technologies, and helping to test and validate interference standards.
- Improving access to emerging telecommunications – particularly digital and IP based systems. Projects in this area will:
- Identify techniques to alert people about possible emergencies and to ensure accessible communication in emergency or crisis situations. (A State of the Science Conference on Accessible Emergency Notification and Communication was held on Nov. 2-3, 2005.)
- Seek ways to build the necessary capabilities into mainstream technologies, to allow them to evolve to new text, speech, and visual communication technologies. (This will enable individuals who are deaf or have speech impairments to communicate over the mainstream technologies in whatever mode or modality works best for them.)
- Develop guidelines and reference materials to help mainstream telecommunications manufacturers build their regular products in a way that allows individuals with visual, hearing, physical, and cognitive disabilities to be able to use them.
The goals of the RERC's training, technical assistance, and dissemination activities are:
- To increase the number and level of expertise of people working to make standard telecommunication systems and products accessible and usable for people who have disabilities or who are aging;
- To move ideas and concepts out into the field in the form of standards or commercial products; and
- To provide useful information from our research to the telecommunications industry, consumers, and policymakers.
Funding for this work has been provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education, under grant H133E040013.