Research that Reflects the Rich Racial and Ethnic Diversity of People with Disabilities

June 21, 2021
By Kristi Hill, Deputy Director, ACL's National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research

Originally published on ACL's Blog

As the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research works through the busiest time of our grants year, we have gotten a lot of questions from across the research community about how we are implementing the Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. 

The executive order states that the goal in advancing equity is to provide everyone with the opportunity to reach their full potential. That goal is at the core of NIDILRR’s mission, and we wholeheartedly embrace the EO’s charge to recognize and work to redress inequities in our policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.   

As the largest funder of disability, independent living, and rehabilitation research in the U.S., we understand that structural racial inequities have shaped the research we have funded and the knowledge that our grantees have generated about the experiences and outcomes of people with disabilities. As a federal team and as a network of grantees across the United States, NIDILRR is actively re-envisioning the diverse, inclusive, and equitable disability research organization that we intend to be. 

NIDILRR has a number of tools at its disposal as we work to ensure that our research portfolio is relevant to the full racial and ethnic diversity of people with disabilities. Section 21 of NIDILRR’s authorizing legislation (Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended) emphasizes the need for NIDILRR to generate research-based knowledge to improve services and supports for traditionally underserved minority populations with disabilities. Through our Section 21 program, NIDILRR provides grant funding directly to HBCUs and other minority serving institutions (MSI) to conduct disability research, and to build capacity for further disability research by MSIs. NIDILRR’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Research and Capacity Building for Minority Entities is at the center of this effort. As part of our Section 21 programs, NIDILRR also works closely with ACL’s Office of Independent Living Programs to co-fund a Center on Minority Youth and Centers for Independent Living, aimed at building and disseminating the evidence base for transition services for youth with disabilities from minority backgrounds. In addition to funding these and other ongoing Section 21 grants, NIDILRR has increased the number of new awards that it plans to make under this program in fiscal year 2021.    

Building upon the emphasis that our authorizing legislation places on addressing the needs of underserved people with disabilities from minority backgrounds, NIDILRR also has program regulations that reflect this imperative. Under 45 CFR 1330.11, NIDILRR can require applicants to demonstrate in their applications how they will address the needs of people with disabilities from minority backgrounds. We historically have required applicants seeking Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) grants to address this requirement. We are now extending these requirements across all NIDILRR grants. For research-intensive grant opportunities such as the Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems, for example, we are requiring applicants to demonstrate that their proposed study samples reflect the full racial and ethnic diversity of the population of people with disabilities they are researching. For grant opportunities like the ADA National Network, which emphasize the provision of technical assistance, training, and outreach activities, we are requiring applicants to describe how those activities will be designed and provided in order to effectively reach the full racial and ethnic diversity of intended stakeholders.

We began including these requirements in our funding opportunity announcements earlier this year, and they will be included in all future NIDILRR funding opportunities.  We also have begun planning for some new initiatives beginning next fiscal year – stay tuned for more information in a blog post next month by our new director, Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt.          

Through these and other efforts, NIDILRR will continue to generate and promote rigorous research-based knowledge that is relevant and important to the full and rich diversity of people with disabilities from across the United States. We invite people with disabilities, service providers, policymakers, and other users of the knowledge and products that NIDILRR generates, to engage with us in this important ongoing effort.