Illinois Pioneers

Tim Nugent, game-changer for students with disabilities

7:30 pm Thursday, Oct. 3, on WILL-TV
Tim Nugent coaching U of I wheelchair basketball team

Tim Nugent coaching U of I wheelchair basketball team

At the University of Illinois, Tim Nugent founded the first comprehensive program in higher education for people with disabilities, and helped establish the university as a power in collegiate wheelchair athletics. Host David Inge talks to Nugent about what it was like for students with disabilities when he started his program after World War II, the difficulties he faced in convincing university faculty and administrators that disabled students belonged on campus, and why wheelchair basketball was an important part of his program.

"I realized after I had these students on campus that they needed much more than academics and counseling," Nugent said. "They needed a way to gain satisfaction from their skills and abilities. I needed a way to project them into the public eye." As they traveled around the country doing exhibition games, they changed attitudes about what disabled people could do and also helped raise funds for the disability program, which struggled with funding issues in the early years. "It was another method of bringing about an understanding of the fact that we had normal emotions and normal desires," Nugent said.

Although a few other universities in the U.S. would accept students with disabilities, the students had to find their own housing and bring attendants to help them. "We had just the opposite approach. We wanted them to come to campus and be like regular students," he said.

Nugent's work in making buildings and transportation accessible served as a model to nations around the world.

Watch the full episode: