Providing Training and Resources to Improve Disability Research

SEDL's National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research works with researchers to improve the quality and use of disability research.

Photo of a several adults at a table discussing an issue. Each day, millions of people with disabilities rely on evidence-based solutions to improve aspects of their lives, such as health, community participation, and work. To provide these solutions, policymakers, researchers, and service providers need access to the best research available.

Focus on Systematic Reviews

In 2009, SEDL's National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR) continued to support the development and use of systematic reviews to improve access to high-quality disability research. The NCDDR accomplished this work through its ongoing partnership with the Campbell Collaboration (C2), an international organization that oversees systematic reviews across the social and behavioral sciences. SEDL program manager John Westbrook chairs the Disability Subgroup within the C2 Education Coordinating Group (ECG), and program associate Joann Starks serves as the ECG coordinator.

Systematic reviews are increasingly important in fields like disability and rehabilitation to determine the effectiveness of interventions based on the best scientific evidence available. To produce a systematic review, researchers first examine all the available studies on a well-defined topic that meet specific quality criteria. Researchers then synthesize and interpret the studies' findings using rigorous protocols to minimize bias. The result provides a more thorough and transparent assessment of what works than a traditional review or an individual study.

Training for Disability Researchers

Producing high-quality systematic reviews can be daunting and time-consuming, however. "It's not something you learn just by reading a book," explains Starks. To assist disability researchers, the NCDDR continued its Web-based series on conducting systematic reviews. The current 12-month course, which began in September 2009, includes four teams selected from a field of 10 applicants. Each team is committed to producing a review after the course's completion. C2 members serve as instructors, teaching the steps and skills involved in producing systematic reviews that comply with C2 guidelines.

"We want to raise awareness of the importance of systematic reviews as a way of knowing what works and planning future research studies."

Joann Starks, SEDL Program Associate

Through this training—as well as workshops, webcasts, registries, task forces, and publications—the NCDDR seeks to increase the number and quality of systematic reviews in the disability and rehabilitation field. "We want to raise awareness of the value of systematic reviews as a way of knowing what works and of planning future research studies," says Starks. The ultimate goal is to increase access to evidence-based information so that people with disabilities and their families have the information they need to make well-informed decisions.

Disability researcher Rooshey Hasnain and her colleagues from the University of Illinois are the first team to complete a systematic review after participating in an NCDDR course. Soon to be published in the Campbell Library, their review examines the effectiveness of interventions to improve rehabilitation services for culturally diverse individuals with disabilities. "The online course provided us with a unique opportunity to form a collaborative partnership and interdisciplinary team," says Hasnain. "The support we received from the instructors was phenomenal." Improving Access to Disability Research