A new national Disability Research Institute (DRI), funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), officially will open April 26 at the University of Illinois.
The ribbon-cutting will come at the end of a day-long symposium on the institute's current research and future agenda.
The institute will serve, in effect, as Social Security's research arm in the area of disability, says Chrisann Schiro-Geist, the managing director of the institute, part of the UI's College of Applied Life Studies.
The agency will spend an estimated $90 billion this fiscal year through its disability programs, providing income support for about 10 million people, but it lacks a research base for dealing with numerous issues.
The institute will build on the cornerstone of SSA support, seeking grants and partners for additional disability research in areas as diverse as health, economics and technology. Aiding in that effort will be high-level partners, on and off campus, from a wide range of disciplines.
According to Tanya Gallagher, dean of the College of Applied Life Studies and scientific director of the DRI, the new institute is another in a "long list of firsts where (the University of) Illinois has broken ground for the benefit of individuals with disabilities."
The UI was the first, Gallagher noted, to establish a comprehensive program for students with disabilities, in the late 1940s. It also has been a pioneer in offering wheelchair sports, a wheelchair accessible bus system and accommodations for building accessibility.
The SSA awarded the five-year, $5.25 million grant to establish the institute last May, as it sought to deal with a variety of administrative, policy and fiscal concerns.
Key among those is the definition of disability itself, said Schiro-Geist, a professor in the field of rehabilitation counseling. "What it is to be disabled in 2001 is very different from what it was to be disabled in 1954 (when Social Security's disability programs were established). You're talking about a half century of changes in technology, attitudes, etc."
A number of institutions and researchers already have signed on as partners in the Disability Research Institute's work. Three universities are serving as affiliate partners in the SSA grant: the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Rutgers universities. Other schools involved include the UI at Chicago, Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and the University of Wisconsin at Stout.
Participating units on the UI campus include the Division of Rehabilitation-Education Services, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations, the Institute of Government and Public Affairs, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and the Office of Continuing Education.