Campus and Community

Transforming Communities

University of Illinois

Empowerment and Access: Education for Persons with Disabilities

The University of Illinois (U of I) is a pioneer in education for persons with disabilities. Home to the oldest post-secondary disability support program in the world, the U of I has empowered thousands of graduates through access to a high-quality education.

In the early 1960s, Tim Nugent—along with students and other staff members—of the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services conducted the seminal research that led to the first architectural accessibility criteria to be approved as an American National Standard (American Standards Association A117.1). The U of I was the first in the nation to provide:

  • a wheelchair-accessible fixed-route bus system;
  • accessible residence halls;
  • a service fraternity and advocacy group comprised of students with disabilities (Delta Omicron);
  • college-level adapted sports and recreation programs for students with disabilities, which produced the first wheelchair athlete to win an Olympic Gold Medal for the United States.

The University of Illinois continues to lead through improvement of facilities and services for students with disabilities and through the development of pioneering teaching and adaptive technologies that create a more accessible world.

At the Festival, visitors had the opportunity to interact with cutting-edge adaptive technologies, participated in empathic modeling (putting themselves in the place of people with various disabilities) and wheelchair sports activities, and learned how Illinois has impacted public policy and perception as it relates to persons with disabilities.

Dr. Scott Willard, Mississippi State University

Matthew Ramir, University of Illinois

Matthew Ramir, a student at the University of Illinois, reads two poems that he wrote about living with cerebral palsy. The second was written as a response to a negative comment he received about the first poem. The session was moderated by Dr. Carrie Sundahl, the program director on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at the University of Illinois.

Videography by Kelsey Michael. Edited by Marianne Hill.

Dr. Scott Willard, Mississippi State University

Lily Diego, University of Illinois

Student poet Lily Diego reads one of her poems at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She is introduced by Dr. Carrie Sandahl, the program director of Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at the University of Illinois. The university is a pioneer in education for persons with disabilities.

Videography by Kelsey Michael. Edited by Marianne Hill.

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