Collection Spotlight: The Wayne State University: Office of Educational Resources for Students with Disabilities Records

(35991) Braille Campus Map, 1969

For more than 87 years, Wayne State University has granted admission and provided services to the physically disabled. The 1960s saw the beginning of the Disability Rights Movement in the United States and with the steadily increasing number of disabled students enrolled at WSU, the need arose for the establishment of an office dedicated to physically disabled students. Thus, in 1961, the University Office of Counseling for the Handicapped was established in the Division of Student Personnel, under the direction of Dr. William Knapp.

From 1962 to 1964, the enrollment of disabled students at WSU had tripled to nearly 150; which in turn spurred the growth of the newly formed office. This office provided invaluable guidance to the University on campus accessibility and building modifications, provided adaptive technologies to the students, and served as a liaison to ensure each student derived the maximum in educational experiences with a minimal loss of independence. Due to the efforts and diligence of this office, the University became an inclusive campus to those with disabilities and was recognized in 1964 as one of only eleven institutions in the country with organized provisions for the severely disabled.

In addition to the Office of Counseling for the Handicapped's work to provide students with the necessary tools to navigate higher education, they also organized and provided social opportunities. One of the most notable facets of the office was the formation of handicap athletics at WSU.

Wheelchair athletics began at Wayne State University in 1966, when twelve students formed a track and field team called The Roadrunners. During their first year, twenty-two team members participated in the Michigan Wheelchair Games and won the First Place Class A Championship in both men’s and women’s classes and First Place over-all Team Championship. WSU won the Michigan Wheelchair Games again in 1968 and five of those participants were chosen for the United States Paralympic Team.

Jack Donaldson, Bill Griggs, Miriam Harris, Joe Gianino, and Karen Gorman represented WSU and the United States in the Tel Aviv, Israel Paralympic Games of 1968. As members of the United States Team, they competed against 28 other nations in events such as basketball, track, swimming, and field events. Gianino brought home a silver medal, Donaldson a bronze, while Gorman received a gold, two silver, and one bronze medals.

The Wayne State University: Office of Educational Resources for Students with Disabilities Records documents Wayne State's role in the Disability Rights Movement, which was gaining momentum and pushing necessary changes to accessibility across the country. This collection documents the University’s response to the needs of disabled students and the evolution of adaptive technologies, accessibility, and other services offered on campus. It explores the Supreme Court Davis Decision and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as barrier-free design, campus life, and academics.

This collection consists of photographs, blueprints, correspondence, reports, news articles, audio reels, and other records generated by the operation of the Office of Educational Resources for Students with Disabilities.

This post was contributed by Elizabeth Nicholson, Archives Technician at the Walter P. Reuther Library, in 2017.