The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Dr. Timothy Nugent during the campus-wide commencement ceremony in Memorial Stadium on May 16. Dr. Nugent founded and was the first director of the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services at Illinois, the first post-secondary academic and personal support program for people with disabilities.
“Advocate, innovator, educator,” said AHS Dean Tanya Gallagher in presenting the degree. “Your work on behalf of persons with disabilities has been transformational. Where others saw limitations, you saw talents and abilities that could benefit us all.”
A veteran of World War II, Dr. Nugent was committed to making the educational benefits of the GI Bill available to all veterans. He founded the first, and for many years the only, comprehensive program of disability services in higher education. His was an uphill battle, but by refusing to abandon his vision for veterans with disabilities, Dr. Nugent made the University of Illinois an institution of firsts: the first curb cuts, the first buses equipped with wheelchair lifts, and research that developed architectural accessibility standards that were later adopted nationally. He also created a comprehensive program of adapted sports for students with disabilities, leading to the founding of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. He served as commissioner of the association for 25 years. Dr. Nugent also founded Delta Sigma Omicron, the first rehabilitation service fraternity.
“In all these ways, you helped to change perceptions of individuals with disabilities and advance a more inclusive society,” Dr. Gallagher said.
In addition to the campus ceremony, Dr. Nugent was honored at both convocation ceremonies of the College of Applied Health Sciences. He told graduates they were graduating from one of the finest colleges at one of the finest universities in the world. “Approach your future with passion, with humility, and with determination,” he said.