University of Maryland


Center Grant on Telecommunications Access Awarded to Trace Center

October 29th, 2009

The UW-Madison’s Trace Center, in partnership with Gallaudet University and Omnitor AB of Sweden, has been awarded a five-year, $4.75 million Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) grant by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education. This grant will fund a broad scope of work on disability access to emerging mainstream telecommunication systems. The focus of the RERC will be on accessibility of collaborative work through multimedia telecommunications, access to emergency responders, and infrastructure for interoperable communications in text.

The Telecom RERC is a partnership between the Trace Center, Gallaudet University’s Technology Access Program, and Omnitor AB. It is one of 19 Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers in the U.S., each focused in a different disability or technology area. The primary purpose of an RERC is to conduct research leading to technology advances that directly benefit people with disabilities.

The Telecom RERC’s program addresses the full range of disabilities (blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, physical, speech, cognitive, language, and learning). The approach is to lay a foundation for access in next generation technologies and to create bridge technologies to allow users with disabilities to migrate to new technologies.

“Telecommunication is in the midst of a sea-change much like information technology was when the Web burst onto the scene in the 1990s,” said Gregg Vanderheiden, Trace Center Director and Principal Investigator. “Like the Web, this change is focusing around the Internet and is fueled by rapidly advancing technologies that enable more intelligent devices and greater innovation. There are opportunities in this trend, but also new barriers for accessibility.”

The research and development projects of this RERC include:

A major research and development focus on telecollaboration. We will identify emerging access issues and opportunities to improve accessibility of new telecollaboration systems and technologies through use of focus groups, Web forum, and observation. We will then develop and test open source reference designs that implement access solutions and features.
Research that will identify and quantify the problems being faced by people with hearing loss in using new IP telecommunications products and networks. The results will be disseminated to clinicians, industry, and policymakers to improve prescription and design, and to update regulations to assure reliable communication over IP networks for everyday use and especially during emergencies.
Development projects addressing the transition between legacy and next-generation text communication technologies. We will develop and prototype an affordable interim solution that could reconnect deaf users of mobile technology who lost access to 9-1-1. We will also prototype a bridge technology for maintaining interoperability between old and new text communication technologies during the decade of transition to the next-generation (interoperable) text and total conversation (text, voice, and video) technologies.
Resources and tool development to facilitate incorporation of accessibility in mainstream telecommunication. We will develop guidelines, standards, sample code, prototypes, tools, and open source implementations, in support of consumers, companies, and policymakers working in this area. Our goal is to help move solutions that are already known and proven out of our (and others’) research labs and into commercial products, industry standards, professional practice, and ultimately users’ hands.
The Trace Center is affiliated with Industrial and Systems Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is an internationally-recognized leader in the field of technology and disability access. In addition to the RERC on Telecommunications Access, the Trace Center serves as the RERC on Universal Interface and Information Technology Access.

The Technology Access Program at Gallaudet University has partnered with the Trace Center for work on universal design of telecommunications since 1995. TAP conducts research related to communication technologies and services, with the goal of producing knowledge useful to industry, government, and deaf and hard of hearing consumers in the quest for equality in communications.

Omnitor AB is a Swedish company that has become a worldwide leader in creating communication possiblities for individuals with disabilities, through development of software, assistive technologies, and international standards.