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Disability Research Resources

DRES Exhibit Part 3: Empowering Individuals

Although Tim Nugent's vision first focused on education it soon expanded to recognize the value and importance of extra-curricular activities. Then as now, persons with disabilities needed diversions and recreation to challenge them to the fullest, whatever their degree of disability.

Delta Sigma Omicron

Delta Sigma Omicron (DSO), a rehabilitation service fraternity, was founded in 1948 by students with disabilities at the University of Illinois. Incorporated in 1949, it was the first fraternity dedicated to education, research, and service and rehabilitation. The motto of DSO reflects the organization's commitment to excellence: "to exercise our abilities to a maximum so as to minimize our disabilities, that we may live most and serve best."

In 1950, DSO issued Sigma Signs, an annual publication celebrating the achievements and activities of students with disabilities at the U of I. Throughout its existence, DSO has donated over a hundred thousand dollars to education and charities on behalf of those with disabilities. Its efforts extend to achievements and opportunities in education, employment, accessibility, and sports and recreation. This organization continues to foster the development of self advocacy skills in students with disabilities.

Sigma Signs, 1950

Sigma Signs, 1959

The first issue of Sigma Signs published by DSO. Sigma Signs has been a strong force in promoting public awareness of people with disabilities and their achievements. During the 1950s, the United States Information Agency distributed Sigma Signs to countries throughout the world. The Voice of America network also broadcast interviews with DSO members and faculty.

Delta Sigma Omicron Foundational Documents

Delta Sigma Omicron Foundation Documents

The motto of DSO reflects the organization's commitment to excellence: "to exercise our abilities to a maximum so as to minimize our disabilities, that we may live most and serve best." This organization continues to foster the development of self advocacy skills in students with disabilities.

Timothy J. Nugent participating in the 1979 Wheel-A-Thon, a Delta Sigma Omicron fundraiser.

On May 12, 1982, the Guy M. Beckwith Living Center, built with funds from a bequest in Mr. Beckwith's will "for the development of a unique educational housing facility," was dedicated. The Beckwith goal was to help residents acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in transitioning to mainstream University or private housing prior to graduation.

Independent Living at Beckwith, 1982

Independent Living at Beckwith, 1982

A table in the library of the Rehabilitation-Education Center with recessed tape recording equipment makes the space usable for study either by sighted persons or by students with low vision.

In the foreground Irma Mittelberg, a volunteer, listens to a tape. Juanita Hall, a graduate student in Rehabilitation Counseling, prepares to study from a taped book while Kathy Priddy, a student in Medical Records, takes notes. The shelves in the background house taped textbooks for use by blind students enrolled at the U of I. On the shelves to the left are the braille reference books.

A transparent plastic relief map that details university buildings and pathways. It details the south end of the Main Quad, encompassing Davenport Hall, the Foreign Language Building, Smith Hall, Foellinger Auditorium, Gregory Hall, Lincoln Hall, and the English Building.

Sue Johnson-Smith demonstrates a zero-resistance steering mechanism and a console on which extended handles allow her to control lights, turn signals, windows, and other electrically-controlled features of the van.

While students with disabilities at the U of I were not the first people with disabilities to drive their own cars, it is important to recognize that the U of I approach to driver's education meant that anyone who really wanted to drive could be accommodated. The refinements of hand controls, developed elsewhere, were combined by U of I students and staff to give independent mobility to people whose paralysis was extensive in their arms and shoulders as well as the rest of their bodies.

From 1948 to 1970 the Gizz Kids finished in the top four of the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NWBT) 13 times. They won the National Championship on three occasions-their first in 1953. Through the years, the University of Illinois was at the forefront of wheelchair technology development to enhance participation in sport. The "Illinois Wheel," a pneumatic tire which improved speed, traction, and maneuverability was developed. In 1967, a new, lightweight sports chair made from stainless steel was developed with Stainless Medical Products, Inc. which led to two back-to-back NWBA National championship titles for the Gizz Kids. These two developments served as a catalyst for ongoing improvements and modifications which are still a focus of today's wheelchair manufacturers.

Cheerleaders, both men and women, accompanied the team to all conference and exhibition games. Try-outs for the squad were held every year with selections made by representatives of the University's varsity cheerleading team and faculty members. Pictured are members of the 1968-69 team. Front row, left to right: Mary Van Osdol, junior in Speech Correction; Nancy Berrie, senior in Business Education; Charlotte Keller, sophomore in Zoology. Back row, left to right: Joanne Stark, freshman in Speech Correction; Lynda Stratman, senior in Elementary Education; Sue Lo Tempio, freshman in Journalism.

In 1970, the Wheelchair Sports Hall of Fame was established to celebrate "persons whose activities and conduct in wheelchair sports deserve the highest form of accolade." Two of the five initial inductees had Illinois connections: Tim Nugent, as founder of the Gizz Kids and Commissioner of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, and Timothy M. Harris, a junior at Illinois majoring in Latin. Harris medaled in international competitions from 1963-1968 and at one time held the national 60-yard and shot put records.

A photograph of Judy Webb, world and international wheelchair archery champion. Webb graduated with a degree in Recreational Therapy in 1971. In addition to archery and basketball, student athletes at Illinois competed at the national and international level in wheelchair track, field, swimming, fencing, bowling, and table tennis.