Featured Research Projects

The Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education is excited to be performing the following research projects. This is not a complete list of our research efforts; please contact the department with any specific questions.

Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (CRPBIS)

Professor Aydin Bal leads a formative intervention experiment on the state-wide implementation of CRPBIS, a social justice-oriented systemic transformation framework. The project is funded by a federal grant (CFDA# 84.027) through Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) over two years. Grounded in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and a Local to Global Social Justice perspective, the CRPBIS framework aims to re-mediate school cultures by examining and influencing socio-historical-spatial processes (e.g., the racialization of school discipline) via a continuous cycle of praxis, a collective critical reflection-action process that draws from systemic disruptions, to develop solutions from the ground-up.

The ultimate goal of the CRPBIS framework is to facilitate an ecologically valid, sustainable, and socially just systemic transformation to address disproportionate representation of non-dominant students in punitive and exclusionary disciplinary actions (e.g., expulsion) and special education programs for emotional/ behavioral disorders. In close collaboration with WDPI, two school districts, and community-based social justice organizations, the CRPBIS project has two objectives: (a) form socially positive, academically rich, and inclusive school cultures in four Wisconsin schools; (b) transform the state-level policy and practices that reproduce outcome disparities and the exclusion and marginalization of non-dominant students and families.

For more information, visit the CRPBIS website or email CPRBIS.

Madison Disproportionality Research Project: A Cultural-Historical Activity Theory-Oriented Study of District-Wide Action of Developmental Transfer

Dr. Aydin Bal is leading a multiple-phase study of culturally and linguistically diverse students’ disproportionate representation in special education programs. In collaboration with Madison Metropolitan School District, the purpose of this mixed-method study is to inform an equity-oriented culturally responsive district-wide systemic change effort in order to address the multiply determined enduring issue of disproportionality. This research project offers Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education and other UW-Madison students the opportunities to study a complex educational phenomenon from a comprehensive systemic transformation perspective. Graduate and undergraduate students will be able to participate in data collection, analysis, and presentation/publication activities.

If you are interested in this project, please contact Dr. Aydin Bal.

A Higher-Order Predictor of Well-Being in Persons with Disabilities: Core Self-Evaluations

Dr. Susan Miller Smedema is engaged in a research program which emphasizes the relationship between a relatively new higher-order positive psychological construct, core self-evaluations (CSE), which is defined as a person’s overall, global evaluation of him or herself as a worthy or competent person, and well-being outcomes in persons with disabilities. According to the original theorists (Judge, Erez, & Bono, 1998; Judge, Locke, & Durham, 1997), CSE is encompassed by four traits: self-esteem, self-efficacy, emotional stability, and locus of control, and according to the theory, it is this higher-order construct that explains dispositional well-being. In 2014 and the first half of 2015, Dr. Smedema published a series of articles related to CSE in persons with disabilities. She published a solo-authored conceptual-pedagogical piece titled Core Self-Evaluations and Well-Being in Persons with Disabilities, which introduces the construct CSE to the field of rehabilitation. In it, she discusses the theory and previous research related to CSE in the general population and also provides suggestions for the use of CSE in rehabilitation research and practice. In addition, she published several articles including the examination of CSE as a mediator between functional disability and life satisfaction in college students with disabilities, the application of CSE to Snyder’s Hope Theory in persons with spinal cord injuries, and the identification of mediators of the relationship between CSE and life satisfaction in persons with spinal cord injuries. She plans to continue working with CSE as a construct that has the power to predict positive employment and well-being outcomes in persons with a variety of different types of disabilities.

For more information, contact Dr. Susan Smedema.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Successful Employer Practices

The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employer Practices for Individuals with Disabilities is hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. The focus of the RRTC is to study the relationships between employer policies, practices, and organizational climate and the outcomes within those businesses for employees with disabilities. This project involves field-oriented, evidence-based research on how employer practices can positively affect the employment of workers with disabilities. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Utah State University, and SPR, are conducting a stakeholder-centered, best-evidence review and synthesis of the literature and a series of case studies with businesses to identify best employer practices for recruiting, hiring, training, retaining, and promoting persons with disabilities in the workplace. In addition, this team is conducting research on the development and validation of a comprehensive employment outcome measure for employers and other stakeholders to track employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities.

Project Period: October 2016 – September 2022. Funding Amount: $4,400,000. For more information about Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employer Practices for Individuals with Disabilities or the role of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on this project, please contact Timothy Tansey. Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of Transition Age Youth with Disabilities

The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities is hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. The purpose of the RRTC is to generate evidence-based interventions to assist transition-age youth (e.g., 14-24 years of age) to enter competitive integrated employment. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, is focused on an examination of the existing literature related to services or practices associated with employment of youth in transition. In addition, the research program seeks to conduct a series of case studies with youth in transition and their families to identify characteristics, service needs, barriers, and supports associated with obtaining and retaining employment.

Project Period: October 2019 – September 2024. Funding Amount: $4,400,000. For more information about Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment of Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities or the role of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on this project, please contact Timothy Tansey. Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) is hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University and funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. The purpose of this project is to help reduce the continuing high levels of unemployment among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through applied research aimed at understanding and addressing systemic barriers. The University of Wisconsin-Madison team is focused on the development and evaluation of the Technology Early Career Preparation Intervention (TECH-Prep) program with students of color with developmental disabilities. In partnership with SPR and Ylobe, this program is designed to increase technology career interests, self-efficacy, outcome expectancy, goal persistence, and increase entrance into post-secondary education or work subsequent to high school completion of youth of color with developmental disabilities. The TECH-Prep program integrates many empirically supported strategies identified in the STEM education and the secondary transition research literature. The program will incorporate coding workshops, blending E-Learning, Face-to-Face meetings, field trips, mentoring, and culminating with a paid internship at a technology company.

Project Period: October 2019 – September 2024. Funding Amount: $4,400,000. For more information about Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) or the role of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on this project, please contact Timothy Tansey. Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.

Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment

The Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment (VRTAC-QE), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (CFDA H264-K200003), is intended to build capacity in the competencies, skills, and knowledge of state vocational rehabilitation agencies (SVRA) to enhance their ability to implement and sustain employment strategies and supporting practices to assist individuals with disabilities in their effort to obtain and retain employment and career advancement. The VRTAC-QE has established a state-of-the-art, accessible website and IT platform for communicating with SVRAs and to provide universal technical assistance in topics critical to vocational rehabilitation services. The center provides intensive, targeted, and universal training and technical assistance to SVRAs in response to their specific needs related to outreach to diverse communities, service provision, and business engagement. The VRTAC-QE, through technical assistance, is focused on increasing: a) Federal, State, or local organizations’ coordination and collaboration with SVRAs,  b) the number and percentage of VR agency personnel reporting that the training and technical assistance is high in quality, relevant, and useful to their work;  c) the percentage of consumers achieving an employment outcome; d) the number and percentage of State VR agencies that achieve their negotiated level of performance for the measurable skill gains indicator; and e) the number and percentage of participating State VR agencies that adopt quality employment strategies and practices as a result of training and technical assistance.  To accomplish these outcomes, the University of Wisconsin will partner with national leaders of research and training including Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana, the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, Florida Atlantic University, South Carolina State University, the University of Texas at El Paso, the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, Iowa Wesleyan University, Michigan State University, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, Autism Workforce, and Ylobe, Inc.

Project Period: October 2020 – September 2025. Funding Amount: $16,700,000. For more information about Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment (VRTAC-QE) or the role of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on this project, please contact Timothy Tansey. Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.

Wisconsin Career Advancement Initiative

The Wisconsin Career Advancement Initiative project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration (CFDA H421C210018). The goal of this project is to create capacity for enhancing career pathways engagement and related employment outcomes of individuals served by the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). To accomplish this goal, the project seeks to improve collaboration among state stakeholders, provide training to DVR and partner agency staff, implement evidence-based decision making, and to provide outreach and support to VR consumers to increase the participation of working-age adults with disabilities. Through this project, we anticipate increased VR consumer engagement in career advancement opportunities, increased co-enrollment in VR and other workforce programs, increased measurable skills gains and credentials, and increased competitive integrated employment outcomes, including self-staining wages and employer benefits while decreasing the need for public benefits.

Project Period: October 2021 – September 2026. Funding Amount: $14,000,000. For more information about the Wisconsin Career Advancement Initiative or the role of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on this project, please contact Timothy Tansey. Professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.