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Introduction

NIDCD Overview

Approximately one in six Americans will experience a communication disorder in his or her lifetime. Communication disorders make the basic components of communication (sensing, interpreting, and responding to people and things in our environment) challenging. In addition, communication disorders not only compromise physical health, but also affect the emotional, social, recreational, educational, and vocational aspects of life. The effects often ripple outward to affect families and social networks, including those at work and school. The total economic impact of these disorders in regards to quality of life and unfulfilled potential is substantial. Furthermore, the prevalence of communication disorders is expected to increase as the population ages, and as survival rates improve for medically fragile infants and people affected by traumatic injuries and diseases.

In October 1988, Congress established the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) as one of the institutes that compose the National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the federal government’s focal point for the support of biomedical research and is among the leading biomedical research funding institutions in the world. NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and to apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. NIDCD’s focus within this broad mission is to bring national attention to the disorders and dysfunctions of human communication and to contribute to advances in biomedical and behavioral research that will improve the lives of the millions of people with a communication disorder.

The NIDCD mission is to conduct and support biomedical research, behavioral research, and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. The Institute conducts and supports research and research training related to disease prevention and health promotion; addresses special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with people who have communication impairments or disorders; supports research evaluating approaches to the identification and treatment of communication disorders and patient outcomes; and supports efforts to create devices that substitute for lost and impaired sensory and communication function. To accomplish these goals, the NIDCD manages a broad portfolio of both basic and clinical research. The portfolio is organized into three program areas: hearing and balance; taste and smell; and voice, speech, and language. The three program areas seek to answer fundamental scientific questions about normal function and disorders and to identify patient-oriented scientific discoveries for preventing, screening, diagnosing, and treating disorders of human communication. (Please see Appendix A for more information on the NIDCD’s funding history.)

The NIDCD accomplishes its research mission through three divisions: the Division of Intramural Research (DIR), the Division of Scientific Programs (DSP), and the Division of Extramural Activities (DEA). The DIR conducts research and related support activities in laboratories and clinics housed at the NIH. The DSP and DEA manage complementary aspects of the NIDCD’s Extramural Research Program, a program of research grants, career development awards, individual and institutional research training awards, center grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations throughout the United States and abroad. As a whole, the Institute supported approximately 1,200 research projects in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. Through research and education, the NIDCD strives to reduce both the direct and indirect economic burden of communication disorders on individuals, families, and society, thereby improving the quality of life for people living with a communication disorder.