News Local/State

Innovator Nugent Getting Honorary Degree From the U of I

Tim Nugent, Director Emeritus of the U of I's Division of Disability Resources

Tim Nugent, Professor and Director Emeritus, U of I Division of Disability Resources and Educational Service (Jeff Bossert/WILL)

The list of accolades continues to grow for Tim Nugent, who changed the way many people with disabilities live, learn and play.

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted Thursday to award Nugent an honorary degree for his decades of work on the Urbana campus.

Nugent's innovations started nearly 70 years ago, when the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus became the first and only program in the country to provide accommodations for handicapped students.

The professor Emeritus started not only wheelchair ramps and handicapped-accessible bus routes, but also developed wheelchair basketball, track and field, football, square dancing, and archery.

Nugent, 92, said he recognized early in life that young people with disabilities need more involvement than academics and counseling.

"They needed a chance for activities with recoprocities," he said.  "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.  In fact, one father wrote to the University of Illinois some years later.  He said, 'it's wonderful what you've done for the people with disabilities at the University of Illinois, but what you've done for the general public is much more important.'  They showed people that they had the same emotions, the same desires, they could compete, they could do things like anybody else could do them.  I knew from the very beginning they had the same aspirations, the same interests, the same talents that you and I had, but had to go about doing it differently."

Nugent spent 38 years at the U of I as Director of Rehabilitation Education Services.  He's still contacted today on how to help communities install ADA compliant facilities.

"Just within the last few months, I was requested to send some of my papers to Sweden, and Italy, and answer a lot of questions about things years ago that I have got the files to remember,"  Nugent said, laughing.  "Things like this don't happen fast.  Changing attitudes are much more difficult than changing technical specifications."

He’ll receive one of three honorary doctorate degrees approved Thursday by the U of I’s Board of Trustees, to be handed out during May commencement ceremonies.

Nugent has been honored in the past for his efforts by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton. 

In 2010, the U of I opened Nugent Hall, a state of the art residence hall for students with disabilities.