Tim Nugent dies at 92, following life of disability rights advocacy

Tim nugent, smiling and white-haired
Tim Nugent known as “The Father of Accessibility” dies at 92

Timothy J. Nugent lived a life of tireless advocacy work advancing the rights of people with disabilities, in particular relating to the right to education. Nugent contributed heavily to the disability rights movement by pushing for policy change regarding rights and accessibility. Many of his accessibility ideas started at the University of Illinois and later became national norms, such as curb cuts.

Nugent passed away the morning of November 11. Born in the 1920s, Nugent went on to start the nation’s inaugural “comprehensive program of higher education for individuals with disabilities” in the 1940s, according to the University of Illinois archives. He was the University of Illinois’ Professor of Rehabilitation Education, and the Director of the Rehabilitation Education Center and the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services.

In addition, Nugent founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association in 1949, and lead the NWBA in the role of commissioner for a quarter century. He also started Delta Sigma Omicron, which is, according to their website, “a rehabilitation service fraternity whose members originally were students with disabilities on the University of Illinois campus. Membership is now open to all persons enrolled in the University of Illinois, Alumni and field members with an interest in ensuring that qualified individuals with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, the curricular, co-curricular and vocational opportunities available at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.” Nugent also served four terms as president of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association and retired in 1985.

According to the UI archives, Nugent was “an international lecturer and consultant, as well as an advocate, publisher, and researcher on behalf of people with disabilities. He was a leader in the development of architectural accessibility standards, public transportation, adaptive equipment, and recreation activities for people with disabilities.”

The legacy of Tim Nugent will live on, in the halls of the University of Illinois, where their first completely accessible residence hall carries his name, and in the broader world we occupy, where he will be remembered for the incredible contributions he made to the disability rights movement.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.