Increasing Access to Disability Research

SEDL’s Disability Research to Practice program works to ensure that high-quality disability research reaches the people who need it the most.

Photo of a man who is missing an arm working on a physical rehabilitation exercise machine. Millions of dollars are spent annually on research related to disability issues and rehabilitation processes. SEDL's Disability Research to Practice program works to improve the quality and use of disability research that reaches people who need it the most: researchers, people with disabilities and their families, and disability-oriented professionals, practitioners, and service providers.

Disability Subgroup With the Campbell Collaboration

In 2008, SEDL's National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR), a project in the Disability Research to Practice program, took steps toward providing support and resources for disability researchers who are conducting systematic reviews. NCDDR worked with the Campbell Collaboration, an international nonprofit organization that oversees systematic reviews in the social, behavioral, and educational arenas, to form a disability subgroup as a part of the Education Coordinating Group.

"No other group I know of focuses its attention on assessing the quality and quantity of disability research for which we can draw unbiased conclusions about the intervention effects."

Chad Nye, Campbell Collaboration Education Coordinating Group

Systematic reviews, a type of research study, aim to identify, assess, and synthesize the results of all relevant studies in order to answer a particular research question. They also try to eliminate bias by using rigorous processes to locate and select data, code data by independent reviewers, and aggregate data from individual studies. Through systematic reviews, practitioners can save considerable time and rely on evidence-based interventions with some confidence that they are benefitting from the methodologically strongest data in the field.

The disability subgroup convened with the Education Coordinating Group at its meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 12, 2008. "No other group I know of focuses its attention on assessing the quality and quantity of disability research for which we can draw unbiased conclusions about the intervention effects," said Chad Nye, co-chair for the Campbell Collaboration's Education Coordinating Group. "We are trying to find out what works. In disability, we have research that hasn't been tapped— we need not reinvent the wheel."

SEDL's NCDDR has conducted online training and workshops on producing systematic reviews, created a network to help interested parties share information, and shared resources at Campbell Collaboration colloquiums. "We hope it will provide a place for people in the disability and rehabilitation field to get assistance in writing systematic reviews," says SEDL program associate Joann Starks. "This is a way for us to make sure that high-quality disability research is used as much as possible and makes an impact in the lives of people with disabilities."

Partnering to Support Research on Autism

SEDL's Disability Research to Practice program formed another important partnership in 2008. The partnership is with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Central Florida (UCF-CARD) and will help disseminate research on autism to practitioners.

As many as 1.5 million Americans are believed to have some form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD, which refers to autism and related disorders), and the rates are increasing. At the same time, employment rates for people with disabilities are declining, and people with ASD often experience lower employment rates than other persons with disabilities.

Photo of a man with a disability and a coworker working together. The UCF-CARD partnership focuses on research investigating effective strategies to support obtaining and maintaining employment outcomes by persons with ASD. Statewide vocational rehabilitation service systems may utilize findings from the research to more effectively serve persons with ASD. Examples of applications of the research include making coworkers more comfortable communicating with persons with ASD in the workplace and helping a person with ASD better understand nonverbal communication. Researchers also work to educate employers about what they can do to help a person with ASD experience greater success at work. "People with ASD want to work—and need to work, like everyone else," says SEDL program associate Frank Martin. "Our research focuses on what vocational rehabilitation practices are linked to employment successes."

Research activities include two systematic reviews, implementation of a rigorous process of identifying and validating vocational rehabilitation best practices, a study of the university-based statewide network of CARD centers in Florida, and case studies of individuals with ASD and their families. As the research progresses, SEDL staff will disseminate findings through Web-based resources, webcasts, and subscriber e-lists.

Research Utilization Support and Help Project

The Research Utilization Support and Help (RUSH) Project tested models of maximizing the use of research findings. Through its Research Utilization Award (RUA), RUSH partnered with six grantees of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. These RUA recipients expanded their outreach to people who might benefit from their research the most and carefully measured the changes their strategies had on participants. All 2008 RUA projects combined involved more than 1,700 people who would otherwise not have been reached.

The first RUA disseminated the findings of researchers at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC): Wheeled Mobility in Everyday Life. The RUAfunded study measured the effect on participants of a conventional workshop that explained the benefits of using a manual wheelchair instead of an electrically powered one. A second RUA was a follow-up: RERC researchers converted the workshop materials to a Webbased platform and compared the impact of the previous workshops to the online course. Presenters found that the best presentation strategy combined some elements of face-to-face learning with the flexibility of online modules for conveying basic information.

This finding was consistent with what a research team from the Native American–owned Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. learned. Staff conducted face-to-face workshops for individuals living on reservations in North Dakota. Participants learned how to use a Web-based tool for creating effective Individualized Education Plans, which outline education goals and ways for schools to address the education needs of students with disabilities.

Researchers at the Beach Center at the University of Kansas used an RUA to engage people in identifying best-available research and in sharing professional and hands-on experiences about families that have children with disabilities. Participants met at national conferences and then continued to converse and share resources via customized software. Another RUA-supported project was awarded to the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Substance Abuse, Disability, and Employment at the Boonshoft School of Medicine, Wright State University. The project conducted a train-the-trainer approach, which eventually reached 965 vocational rehabilitation counselors. Participants learned how to use an online tool to screen people requesting services for substance abuse. The counselors could then more easily identify individuals who might need to deal with a substance abuse problem before trying to hold down a job.

RUSH did not limit its support to high-tech projects. A peer-educator, directed by researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University who held one of the RUAs, taught 93 licensed long-term care providers in nine Alzheimer's care facilities how to create boards with pictures to help residents in their facilities remember what they want to say.