Brilliant Stories

Disability Pride Month: How Champaign-Urbana Helped Shape Accessibility

July 8, 2021

July is Disability Pride Month. Disability Pride is defined by the Disability Community Resource Center as “accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.” Disability Pride is an integral part of movement building and a direct challenge of systemic ableism and stigmatizing definitions of disability.

Here in Champaign-Urbana, our community has a rich past of advocating and celebrating disability rights. Last year for the 30th anniversary, we highlighted the U of I's history as well as ongoing efforts in the university's Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) department. On top of all of these achievements past and present, we're proud to have strong ties to the Paralymipcs, including many athletes training for this year's Tokyo Games. Here's a brief history of why Disability Pride Month means so much to our Outside of Ordinary community.

U of I's History of advocacy for disability resources

Image Credit: University of Illinois' Disability Resources and Educational Services 

By the time the ADA became law, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana had already been at the forefront of advocacy for the cause of accessibility for a quarter of a century. As early as 1948, the Galesburg campus of the university was assisting disabled WWII veterans in reacclimating to society after suffering physical disabilities during service.

U of I faculty and students helped pave the way for research development that would go on to shape the ADA. From practices in accessibility to recommended accommodations and resources, the University of Illinois' efforts went on to form the national standards outlined in the ADA.

The Formation of DRES

One graduate student, Timothy Nugent, was just 24 when he began offering sports like wheelchair basketball and other activities to students. The prodigious impact of these programs led to a noticeable psychological benefit to the participants. 


I knew after a month that these guys needed something else, something to give vent to their emotions, something to give them personal satisfaction, (a sense) of mastering a skill.” - Timothy Nugent (via DRES archives)

Nugent was able to move his operation to the Urbana campus, but it took eight years to obtain funding from the university. Even without financial support from U of I, Nugent and his students developed what would become Disability Resources and Educational Services within the College of Applied Health Sciences. Their work is credited by some to be the birthplace of the disability rights movement. 

DRES Today

The Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services didn't just pave the way for the ADA and other past bills. The program continues to lead disability rights initiatives in the present and future. Here are some points of pride for the department:

Paralympians heading to japan for the 2021 olympics

A number of Paralympians who train at DRES here in Champaign-Urbana are gearing up for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. From the USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team to historic racers like Tatyana McFadden, you can learn more about the Paralympians heading to Tokyo with ties to the area on the DRES Spotlights page.

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