Tim Nugent, US ‘father of accessibility’ dies age 92

The IPC pays tribute to Nugent, who is credited for leading the way in para-sports and accessibility from his professional base at the University of Illinois. 12 Nov 2015
IPC logo

Official logo of the International Paralympic Committee


“Nugent was a true pioneer not just for para-sport, but he also strongly believed in nurturing the whole person to help them reach their full potential.”

The International Paralympic Committee has paid tribute to the late Tim Nugent, who is credited with kick starting education and sporting opportunities for people with impairments as well as leading the early fight for improved accessibility in the USA.

Nugent passed away on Wednesday (11 November) aged 92 and is widely regarded as the “father of accessibility” in the US following his tireless efforts to advance the rights of people with impairments following the end of World War Two.

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, said: “Nugent was a true pioneer not just for para-sport, but he also strongly believed in nurturing the whole person to help them reach their full potential.

“His mantra was ‘the presence of a problem is the absence of an idea,’ which led him to break down many of the barriers that people with impairments face in all spheres of life, from education right through to sport and making the built environment accessible for all.

“Athletes such as multiple world and Paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden is just one example of all his years of dedication personally, professionally and politically.

“His impact in the USA is comparable to that of the father of the Paralympic Movement Sir Ludwig Guttmann and his legacy is nothing short of incredible.”

Born in 1923, Nugent founded the first comprehensive programme of higher education for people with impairments in 1948. Now known as the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) on the Urbana-Champaign campus at the University of Illinois, the centre has produced many successful para-athletes.

Speaking on Facebook, McFadden, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 2013 and became the first athlete to win four major marathons in one year, said: “It's a sad day at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as we were informed on the passing of Tim Nugent.

“Tim Nugent not only had the kindest heart but has made the difference in the lives of people with disabilities forever. He founded the University of Illinois Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services in 1948 when he started working with returning veterans from World War II.

“This lead to the University of Illinois being the first university ever to have accessible curb cuts, accessible buses, and most importantly the first to provide adaptive sports. This wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for Tim Nugent.

“He helped to change the lives of people with disability in the past, present, and even in the future. Thanks for making this world a better place.”

Nugent served as Professor of Rehabilitation Education and Director of the Rehabilitation Education Centre and the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services at the University of Illinois.

He also founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association in 1949 and served as Commissioner for the first 25 years, as well as Delta Sigma Omicron, a national rehabilitation service fraternity.

He was President of the National Paraplegia Foundation (now National Spinal Cord Injury Association) for four terms, and was a leader in the development of architectural accessibility standards, public transport, adaptive equipment and recreation for people with impairments.

He was active in many professional organisations, including the American National Standards Institute, the Illinois State Legislative Commission on the Hospitalisation of Spinal Cord Injured, the Committee on Technical Aids, Housing and Transportation of Rehabilitation International, and the Institute for the Advancement of Prosthetics.

He held degrees from Tarleton State University, Texas; University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, Wisconsin; and the University of Wisconsin inMadison, Wisconsin. He also has honorary degrees from Springfield College in Massachusetts and Mount Mary College in Wisconsin.

In 2007, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Medallion, recognising his service to the University of Illinois, and saw Stadium Drive named Tim Nugent Way. In 2011, he was named a Lincoln Laureate.

Most recently in 2013, the US College of Applied Health Sciences, which includes DRES among its units, established the Timothy J. Nugent Professor in Rehabilitation Research.