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R2: Public Policy Project

Federal Legislation


A large body of Federal legislation supports research and development, technology transfer, product commercialization, business development, and job creation. While much of this legislation does not focus on assistive technology or on serving the needs of persons with disabilities, other legislation clearly has this intent.

Federal legislation can be roughly divided into Supply-Side (facilitating technology development) and Demand-Side (creating market demand) legislation.

Supply-Side Legislation

Starting with the Stevenson-Wydler Act of 1980, US federal legislation supported the transfer of knowledge and technological innovation to and from federal agencies to support the agency's mission; drive private sector innovation and stimulate the economy. Useful listings of can be found at the Federal Laboratory Consortium. Key demand-side legislation includes:

(1980) Technology Innovation Act ("Stevenson-Wydler Act")-provides incentives to laboratory-industry collaborations. Secretary of Commerce "shall provide assistance for the establishment of Centers of Industrial Technology whose activities shall include: (1) research supportive of technological and industrial innovation including cooperative industry-university basic and applied research; (2) assistance to individuals and small businesses in the generation, evaluation and development of technological ideas supportive of industrial innovation and new business ventures; (3) technological assistance and advisory services to industry; and (4) curriculum development, training instruction in invention, entrepreneurship, and industrial innovation." Large Federal Laboratories must establish Offices of Research and Technology Applications (ORTA) in order to conduct technology transfer activities.

(1980) Patents and Trademarks Law Amendments ("Bayh-Dole Patent Act," Public Law 96-517) - Enables small businesses and non-profit organizations, including universities to retain title to materials and products invented with federal funding. This allows universities to grant exclusive licenses to U.S. manufacturers for inventions developed with federal funds (even when non-federal funds have helped to develop the invention) with license revenues returned exclusively to the university. Licenses are granted preferentially to small companies except in cases where a large manufacturer has provided substantial support.

(1982) Small Business Innovation Development Act (Public Law 97-219) - the most important feature of this legislation is the requirement of Federal agencies to set aside special funding for relevant small business R&D. The purpose of the SBIR Program is "to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector, strengthen the role of small businesses in meeting Federal research and development needs, increase private sector commercialization of innovations derived from USDA-supported research and development efforts, and foster and encourage participation, by women-owned and socially disadvantaged small business firms in technological innovation."

(1984) NATIONAL COOPERATIVE RESEARCH ACT - reduced the risk of civil anti-trust prosecution of firms entering into joint R&D agreements with Federal Laboratories.

(1986) Federal Technology Transfer Act (Public Law 99-502) - provided incentives for government agencies and laboratories to enter into Cooperative Research and Development Agreements.

(1988) Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act (Public Law 100-418) - law creating the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). Established new goals and missions for the Department of Commerce, "National Bureau of Standards" which was renamed the "National Institute of Standards and Technology."

(1989) NATIONAL COMPETITIVENESS TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER ACT (Public Law 101-189) The National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989 (included as Section 3131 et seq. Of DOD Authorization Act for FY 1990) further amended the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1980 to enhance Technology Transfer between the Federal Government and the private sector. It empowered contractor-owned Government laboratories to enter into CRADAs, and allowed information and innovations brought into, and created through, CRADAs to be protected from disclosure.

(1995) National Technology Transfer Improvements Act ("The Morella Act," Public Law 104-113) The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 amends the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act and the Federal Technology Transfer Act to further promote commercialization of inventions resulting from CRADAs by providing private sector partners sufficient Intellectual Property rights in inventions. The Act guarantees the partner, at minimum, the option of an exclusive license in a field of use for inventions created solely or jointly with Government employees. The Act assures that privileged and confidential information will be protected from public disclosure when a CRADA invention is used by the Government. The Act also provides enhanced incentives and rewards to Government employees who create inventions that are commercialized. The Act provides the inventor(s) with the first $2000, and thereafter at least 15%, of the royalties received yearly, up to a maximum of $150,000 per year per inventor. The Act further permits an Agency to use royalty revenue for R&D consistent with missions and objectives of its laboratories and for related administrative and legal costs. The Act was created to help reduce the time and effort required to develop CRADAs with the federal laboratories. This law also guarantees private companies the option of choosing an exclusive license for an invention created under a CRADA.

(2000) ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT - fosters collaboration between the Federal Laboratory Consortium and NIDRR that includes: compiling a list of current and future federal technologies with application to assistive technology; developing strategies for applying assistive technology and universal design to mainstream application; increasing economies of scale; and demonstration projects.

Demand-Side Legislation

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, US Federal Legislation established access requirements that include public buildings, transportation, communication, education, and work opportunities. The impact of disability legislation has been to provide a market advantage to manufacturers whose products meet state and federal accessibility requirements. The US Department of Justice maintains an excellent listing of disability related legislation. Key supply-side legislation includes:

(1968) The Architectural Barriers Act "...requires that public and some private buildings designed, built, leased, or altered using federal funds must be accessible to people with disabilities. Federal buildings or federally funded facilities must at least meet federal standards for access. For example, there must be at least one primary entrance that is level or ramped and restrooms must be accessible to persons who use wheelchairs. Examples would include Social Security offices, U. S. Postal offices, and other federal buildings designed, built, leased, or altered after September 1969. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board enforces the Architectural Barriers Act."

(1973) The Rehabilitation Act provided funding for vocational rehabilitation services so that people with disabilities "may prepare for and engage in gainful employment to the extent of their capabilities." Included under this funding were "telecommunications, sensory, and technological aids." The Rehab Act required that any contract in excess of $2500 entered into by any Federal department or agency contained an affirmative action statement to employ and advance in employment qualified handicapped individuals. It established the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board ("Access Board") to investigate problems of people with disabilities in the areas of architecture and transportation and make recommendations to the President and Congress.

  • (1998) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act...
  • (1998) Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. "On August 7, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 which covers access to federally funded programs and services. Section 508 of the amended Rehabilitation Act requires that all federal employees have full access to electronic and information technology. In addition, members of the public must have full access to federal documents, records and services provided via electronic and information technology. Section 508 applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Section 508 speaks to various means for disseminating information, including computers, software, and electronic office equipment. It applies to federal pages on the Internet. It does not apply to the web pages of private industry. There are several exemptions to Section 508, including "undue burden."

(1988) Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilties Act (modified in 1994) defined assistive technology products and services; established and funded state-level programs to provide education, referrals and to facilitate systems change. An A/T product was defined as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve capabilities of individuals with disabilities."

(1988) Hearing Aid Compatibility Act (1988, modified in 2001) required wireless phones be accessible to persons with hearing aids.

(1990) The Americans with Disabilities Act, reauthorized in 1990 is legislation that comprehensively addresses "equal access" for persons with disabilities including access to federally funded employment, transportation, buildings and services.
Title I (Employment) - "… requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit form the full range of employee-related opportunities available to others. … It prohibits discrimination in recruitement, hiring, promotions and training…"
Title II (State and Local Governments) - "…required to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all their programs, services and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting and town meetings)…", "…architectural standards…", "…effective communication with persons with hearing, vision or speech disabilities…"
Title III (Public Transportation) - accessible public transportation (buses, trains, vans, … and the facilities in which they operate)
Title IV (Public Accomodations) - accessible motels, hotels, …
Title V (Telecommunications) - accessible telephone and televisions

"…public entities are not required to take steps that require undue financial burdens…"

(1990) The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. The Air Carrier Access Act covered such things as access to airport facilites and aircraft, boarding, wheelchair stowage, and seating. The ACAA provided exemptions for aircraft carrying fewer than 19 passengers and some aircrfat carrying 19 passengers. The Guide Specification For Lifts Used To Board Airlines was published in 1993 and provided a design target for manufacturers.

(1994) Goals 2000: Educate America Act includes: "By the Year 2000 -- all students will leave grades 4, 8 and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science . . .and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation's modern economy."

(1996) Section 255 of the Telecommuncations Act requires telecommunications manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services directly accessible or accessible by means of "specialized equipment" commonly used by people with disabilities - if readily achievable. Section 255 covers telephone network hardware and software, and equipment used in the home or other premises to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications (e.g. telephones, fax machines, answering machines, pagers). Services include regular telephone calls, call waiting, speed dialing, call forwarding, computer-provided directory assistance, call monitoring, caller identification, call tracing, repeat dialing, interactive voice response (IVR) systems and voice mail.

(1997, 2004) Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act of 2004 require that public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible…" IDEA responds to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requirement that schools offer free and appropriate public education, "A recipient [of federal funds] that operates a public elementary, secondary or adult education program shall provide a free appropriate public education to each qualified handicapped person who is in the recipient's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person's handicap (Reg. Sec. 104.33)." IDEA requires that children with and without disabilites be educated together, "A recipient to which this subpart applies shall educate each qualified handicapped person in its jurisdiction with persons who are not handicapped to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the handicapped person (Reg. Sec. 104.34)." Title II of IDEA referred to as Assistance to States for Education of Children with Disabilities (34 C.F.R. Part 300.305) establishes the rights of children for access to assistive technology, "Each public agency shall ensure that assistive technology devices or assistive technology services, or both, as those terms are defined in Regs. Secs. 300.5-300.6, are made available to a child with a disability if required as a part of the child's free and appropriate education (Reg. Sec. 300.308). Under section 674(e)(4) of the Act, the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) is intended to help increase the availability and timely delivery of print instructional materials in accessible formats to blind or other persons with print disabilities in elementary and secondary schools. It is the responsibility of publishers to provide print instructional materials in a NIMAS conformant XML content file, a package file (OPF), a PDF-format copy of the title page (or whichever page(s) contain(s) ISBN and copyright information), and a full set of the content’s images. NIMAS is intended to be a an extensible rather than comprehensive standard. Guidelines have been suggested on how NIMAS should be extended for: mathematics, video support, testing, workbooks, music, dictionaries, chemistry, and searching and other content. me of the extensions that have been discussed ( http://www.daisy.org/z3986/). NIMAS applies to print instructional materials published after August 18, 2006.

(1998) In the Olmstead Decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that people with cognitive disabilities (and by extension any person with a disability) must be able to live in a "least restrictive environment." In 2001, President Bush signed the Olmstead Executive Order which mandates that certain federal agencies cooperate with state governments in order to fulfill requirements of the Olmstead Decision.

(1965, 2000) The Older Americans Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The OAA created the Administration on Aging and authorized grants to States for community planning and services programs, as well as for research, demonstration and training projects in the field of aging. Specific objectives of the OAA include:

  • "The best possible physical and mental health which science can make available [to older americans] and without regard to economic status"
  • "Obtaining and maintaining suitable housing, independently selected, designed and located with reference to special needs and available at costs which older citizens can afford."
  • Immediate benefit from proven research knowledge which can sustain and improve health and happiness.

(1998, 2004) Assistive Technology Act renewed and expanded the TRAID Act to include in part: grants for small business research (supply-side impact); and grants or alternative financing to purchase assistive technology (demand-side impact). For more information on this legislation and a list of state ATA Projects go to the Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs web site. For a recent analysis of the ATA legislation go to the RESNA Tech Act Project webpage.

(2001) No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110) was originally authorized as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. NCLB has made sweeping changes to the education of children in the United States. High-stakes testing, school accountability, and early intervention for struggling readers have all been promoted with the passage of this legislation. The four main principles of NCLB are: holding schools accountable for learning; increasing flexibility for schools reaching goals; providing more options for parents to chose outside schools that fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for 2 consecutive years; and using research to promote effective teaching strategies to enhance student learning. (U.S. Department of Education (2004). Toward a new golden age in American education: How the internet, the law and today's students are revolutionizing expectations. National Educational Technology Plan. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.) All children, including those with disabilities must successfully complete the annual assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics (in grades 3-8 and one time in grades 9-12) and science (one time each in grades 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12). Children with disabilities may use appropriate accommodations or alternative assessments on an as needed basis. NCLB includes a clause "Enhancing Education through Technology" that will (among other things): promote the use of technology to enhance academic achievement; promote private-public partnerships that will increase access to technology; create technology infrastructures in schools to enhance access to technology; train teachers and administrators to integrate technology into curricula through professional development programs; and promote technology alternatives (i.e. distance learning) for geographically isolated communities. (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (2006). Industry Profile on Education Technology: Learning Disability, Technology and Markets. RERC on Technology Transfer).

(2005) Hearing Aid Tax Credit Act of 2005 (S. 1060) has been introduced in the US Senate by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN). This legislation would provide a tax credit of up to $500 per device toward the purchase of hearing aids once every 5 years. The tax credit is non-refundable and may be used by a parent purchasing a hearing aid for a dependent child ($500 per dependent per device) or by individuals aged 55 or older who are purchasing a hearing aid for themselves. "

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