The man credited as the "father of accessibility" at the University of Illinois has died. Tim Nugent passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 92. The news was confirmed by the U of I’s College of Applied Health Sciences and Savoy United Methodist Church.
In the late 1940’s, Nugent advocated on the Urbana campus for wheelchair-accessible buses, curb cuts, and other amenities that those with disabilities now take for granted. Many of his ideas have been adopted nationally.
Talking with Illinois Public Media in September, Nugent said the passage of accessibility laws in every state in the nation is a sign of progress, but that more should be done.
"There’s still got to be more - a deeper understanding of the way it’s to be done, and what it means than what exists yet today," he said.
"But it’s happening. These things don’t happen fast. It’s step by step by step. Unfortunately, it takes much longer than I ever thought it would."
Nugent started the U of I’s Department of Rehabilitation Education Services (now the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services) in 1948 to help those returning from World War II.
Talking with Illinois Public Media in January, when the U of I announced he would receive an honorary degree, Nugent said he recognized early in his career that his students with disabilities also needed the same options for recreation as everyone else - which led to the founding of the U of I’s wheelchair athletics program.
“They needed a chance for activities with reciprocities, they needed a chance to give out their emotions, to get the satisfaction of participation. And actually our sports program turned out to be the best weapon we had so far as educating the public.”
Nugent helped start up the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, as well as wheelchair football, track, archery, and square dancing.
Earlier this year, Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Illinois US Senator Mark Kirk nominated Nugent for the Congressional Gold Medal. That bill is still pending in Washington. Davis issued a statement late Wednesday.
“Today, we lost a pioneer in architectural accessibility and a relentless advocate for people with disabilities,” he said. “Tim fought for the rights of disabled veterans and to make universities accessible to students with disabilities. He challenged the way many regarded disabled individuals and opened the doors of higher education to millions of Americans. His legacy will live on throughout the halls of the University of Illinois and on college campuses across this county and I hope one day we will honor his contributions with a Congressional Gold Medal.”
"I was very sad to hear the news that Tim Nugent has passed away," said Sen. Kirk, in a statement issued via video Wednesday night. "He has done so much for veterans here on Veterans Day. So much for making sure those of us with disabilities can get access to any place that the public can get. Tim, I will really miss you, especially around Nugent Hall, which is named after you at the U of I."