Tuesday, March 9, 2010

About Disability Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTAC)

In the course of researching another question, I ran across a reference to a DBTAC.  It was difficult to locate clear information on what a DBTAC was.  This post presents the gist of what I found in my examination of that question, with a focus on DBTACs along with incidental references to related organizations.

According to the Guide to U.S. Department of Education Programs (2009) (referred to here as the DoE Guide), the Department of Education (DoE) had a number of disability and rehabilitation research programs in 2009.  One such program was the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTAC) program.

The DoE Guide (p. 42) says, "DBTACs provide technical assistance and training to state and local governments and private businesses regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to facilitate compliance with ADA and conduct disability and rehabilitation research, and research development activities."  The references to research mark a change, resulting from the work of the DBTAC Coordination, Outreach and Research Center (CORC) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

What appears to be the first DBTAC webpage was posted in December 1998 at its present location, adata.org, where "adata" stood for ADA Technical Assistance.  According to a webpage describing the DBTAC CORC project, however,

In 2006, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research [NIDRR] sought to further strengthen the [DBTAC] network by infusing the principles of evidence-based practice and knowledge translation. All DBTACs were asked to expand their core activities beyond technical assistance and strict [ADA] compliance and to include programs in the conduct and utilization of research. 
To facilitate this transition, NIDRR developed [the DBTAC CORC at VCU].  With an emphasis on communities of practice and demand-side job placement, the CORC exists to discover constructive ways for businesses to replicate best practices regarding employment and public access.
That webpage further says that one CORC objective was to create "a definitive ADA Web site, known as the DBTAC-Information Network."  That objective may have been responsible for the apparent decimation of webpages at the adata.org website between 2005 and 2007.  The site has since been built back to some extent, in a more visually pleasing form, and now (somewhat confusingly) describes itself as the DBTAC National Network of ADA Centers (still at www.adata.org).  Perhaps because NIDRR was not impressed with the research efforts funded by the DBTACs, it seems that, starting in 2009, DBTACs have been maintained but have ceased to offer grants.

Incidentally, to clarify the foregoing reference to the NIDRR, the DoE Guide (p. 45) says,
The primary purpose of NIDRR is to carry out a program of research and related activities designed to maximize the full inclusion, employment, independent living, and economic sufficiency of individuals with disabilities, with particular emphasis on improving the effectiveness of services authorized under the Rehabilitation Act.
That page indicates that "Rehabilitation Act" is short for the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 762-764.  The Rehabilitation Act seems to have provided for at least some of the research-oriented programs that (unlike DBTACs) seem to be at the heart of NIDRR's work.  For example, under 29 U.S.C. § 764(b)(2), the DoE was authorized to create Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) around the country, for the purpose of creating new knowledge.  Such knowledge-production efforts are tracked by the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC), which maintains a database, searchable by state, listing currently funded NIDRR research projects.

As I say, I discovered the existence of DBTACs while I was looking into another question.  The question I was examining had to do with the definition of "impairment."  In that research, I came across an adata.org webpage offering a definition under the ADA.  That webpage was undated, so I suspected that its interpretation might be obsolete.  The webpage says, "Contact your regional DBTAC at 1-800-949-4232 V/TTY for the most up-to-date information."  But I wanted to know whether the information I would get from such a source would be at all reliable.  In the process of investigating DBTACs, I came across something better than telephonic advice:  a 2009 Disability Law Handbook, prepared by the regional DBTAC in Houston.