The flagship of the US government disability research agenda is the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) located in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) in the US Department of Education. The truth is that government research programs on disability such as NIDRR don’t often make news.
However, this week, NIDRR is making news. Dr. Charlie Lakin comes on board this week as NIDRR’s new director. Charlie will help lead NIDRR in its work to generate new knowledge to maximize the full inclusion, social integration, employment, and independent living of individuals of all ages with disabilities, through research in employment; participation and community living; health and function; and technology. As the NIDRR Director, Charlie also will chair the Interagency Committee on Disability Research.
It’s a small agency with a big agenda. NIDRR has made some other news lately for its work in rehabilitation for people with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and burns; for its work to improve access to employment for people with disabilities; for its investments in small businesses that help people with disabilities solve problems; and for its emerging focus on cloud computing as a way to make the web and everything electronic accessible to people with disabilities, among other things.
Previously, Charlie was the director of the University of Minnesota's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living, in the Institute on Community Integration. Charlie brings more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, researcher, consultant, and advocate in services for people with disabilities. Because we are both Minnesotans, and because we come out of the developmental disability community, I have been in many meetings with Charlie Lakin over the years. He is thoughtful, considerate, supportive and very insightful.
It’s a good thing, too. I have had the pleasure of serving as acting director of NIDRR for the last year, so I got to know the almost mind-boggling array of issues this little office is trying to address. NIDRR always wants to know: What are the biggest problems on the horizon for Americans with disabilities? Can research help answer those questions? As NIDRR moves forward under Charlie Lakin, I expect there will be more and more opportunities for citizens to share their questions and concerns. Let NIDRR hear from you.
Sue Swenson is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office on Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education.