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The Gallaudet University Technology Access Program today announced it has been awarded a five-year $4.7 million grant (grant number H133E140056) from the U.S. Department of Education National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research on Improving the Accessibility, Usability, and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

The Technology Access Program (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. The goal of the grant is to provide the tools, methods, and knowledge that will bridge the gaps between the capabilities of modern technologies and the ability of consumers to take full advantage of them.

“Assistive devices for deaf and hard of hearing people are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but much of the rehabilitation and training that is needed has so far been done in person under clinical supervision,” said Dr. Christian Vogler, director of TAP. “There is massive potential for rehabilitation and training to be done online and using consumer devices, by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing themselves. This grant will move us closer to empowering people to take advantage of new technologies on their own terms.”

Vogler, who is deaf and relies on assistive devices every day, and Linda Kozma-Spytek serve as the project co-directors and will work closely with researchers at Gallaudet University, University of Colorado, University of Iowa, Hearing Loss Association of America, American Institutes for Research, University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, and Hands and Voices on the six projects outlined in the grant.

“Our motivation in the Technology Access Program is to achieve equality in communications for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Kozma-Spytek, a research audiologist. “One facet of an equal playing field is ensuring that people who cannot get to clinics easily or as often as they need to are able to receive help and support with their devices through the use of available technologies, right in their own homes.”

The six projects, which are all underway, include:
• Project R1: Investigates how face-to-face clinical programs of aural rehabilitation for cochlear implant users can be transferred to a telerehabilitation model, in which services can be delivered at home to previously underserved populations with limited access to clinical facilities.

• Project R2: Investigates how consumers with cochlear implants can customize their own device adjustments.

• Project R3: Investigates new clinical tools to address a critical gap in fitting hearing devices to very young, pre-lingual children with hearing loss. There are currently no validated assessment protocols to evaluate hearing device fittings for children under the age of 2 & 12 years.

• Project D1: Creation of a program that develops skilled consumer trainers who then will train other consumers on the effective use of technology, beyond what they receive through clinical services.

• Project D2: Development of tools to help hearing assistive devices adjust better to a variety of environmental contexts.

• Project D3: Development of interactive learning environments where consumers can explore virtual, yet realistic, listening situations, learn how to optimize the use of their hearing technology, and then transfer the knowledge and skills to situations they encounter in their everyday lives.
“As the world’s only liberal arts university in which all programs and services are designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students, Gallaudet University is uniquely positioned to be the leading international resource for research, innovation, and outreach related to deaf and hard of hearing people,” said President T. Alan Hurwitz. “Grant awards such as this are of monumental importance to our community, and I applaud the diligence and dedication of TAP in their efforts to advance technologies that serve the deaf and hard of hearing community.

The grant period began on October 1, 2014, and runs through September 30, 2019. It is a successor to the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Hearing Enhancement grant that the Gallaudet Department of Hearing, Speech, and Language Sciences had from the fall of 2001 to the fall of 2014, a total of 13 years. The dollar amount of federal funds awarded for the five-year period is $4,750,000. The percentage of the total cost of the program financed by federal funding is 89%. The percentage and dollar amount of the total costs funded by non-governmental sources is 11%, $578,874.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

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