Valuing Lives
Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization

Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota
Institute on Disabilities at Temple University

Extended interviews – On Normalization

Extended interviews exploring the Normalization Principle. Speakers include Doug Mouncey, Robert Schalock, Allan Bergman, Val Bradley, Sheridan Forster, Hank Bersani, Pam Walker, Michael Kendrick, Barbara Page Hanify, Judith Sandys, Bill Gaventa, David Braddock, Darcy Elks, Steve Taylor, Sue Swenson, Beth French, Steve Eidelman, Steve Holmes, Bob Flynn, Nancy Thaler, Bob Ciota, Sandy Bufis, Beth Mount, Tom Kohler, Jacques Pelletier, Audrey Cole, Bob Goodfellow, John Armstrong, Muriel Grace, Rannveig Traustadottir, Derrick Dufresne, and Sue Swenson.

Extended interviews – About Wolf Wolfensberger

Extended interviews exploring professional and personal qualities of Wolf Wolfensberger. Speakers include Bob Flynn, Joan Wolfensberger, John O’Brien, Beth French, Robert Schalock, Jacques Pelletier, Rebecca Salon, Susan Thomas, Kathryn Smith, Margaret Wolfensberger Sager, Rannveig Traustadottir, John Armstrong, David Race, Nancy Wolfensberger, Bill Gaventa, Audrey Cole, Jo Massarelli, Chris Liuzzo, Marc Tumeinski, and Pam Walker.

Extended interviews – Citizen Advocacy

Citizen advocacy, a concept developed by Wolf Wolfensberger, is built on one-to-one, freely given personal relationships between two people. One is a person with a developmental disability who has often been excluded from typical community life, and the other is a person who is living a good, ordinary life here in our community. Extended interviews on this topic include the following speakers: Tom Kohler, Tom Doody, Beth French, Wolf Wolfensberger, Barbara Page Hanify, Ashley O’Brien, and Peg Jenner.

Extended interviews – Self-Advocacy

Self-Advocacy is a social and civil rights movement by and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to speak up for themselves and for others with disabilities. Although dismissed and criticized by Wolfensberger, the self-advocacy movement can trace its origins to Normalization. Extended interviews on Wolfensberger’s perception of self-advocacy include the following speakers: Steve Holmes, Wolf Wolfensberger, Nancy Wolfensberger, Val Bradley, Mel Duncan, Hank Bersani, and Emma Barken.

Extended interviews – Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor (1949 – 2014) was the director of the Center on Human Policy and professor of Disability Studies at Syracuse University. In this extended interview Taylor discusses the cultural climate of the 1970s and the role of CHP in the disabilities movement; the role of disability studies; the history of institutions in the United States; the role of conscientious objectors in exposing the conditions of institutions; challenges of working as direct support professionals; the Community Imperative; institutions v. homes; Normalization and PASS; and Wolfensberger the teacher.

Extended interviews – Nancy Wolfensberger

Nancy Wolfensberger (1941 – 2014) provides personal reflections on her husband of over 50 years and insights into his positions on a variety of topics, including teaching, advocacy, and family. Wolf was able to accomplish so much in large part because of the strength and support of Nancy.

Extended interviews – John O’Brien

A pioneer of person-centered planning, John O’Brien reflects on his long association with Wolf Wolfensberger. Topics in this extended interview include career beginnings, Wolf’s workshops, the “cauldron of new ideas” at Syracuse University in the 1970s, PASS and team learning, disagreements over PASS and Normalization, devaluation of people with disabilities, criticisms of evidence-based practice, and Wolf’s separation of values and science as he moved to Social Role Valorization.

Extended interviews – Val Bradley

President of Human Services Research Institute, Val Bradley discusses her entry into the dynamic field of intellectual disabilities in the 1960s. Topics in this extended interview include: encountering Normalization, Wolfensberger’s framework of systemic change, reactions to and fear of Normalization, beyond caretaking, and Wolf’s later years.

Extended interviews – Allan Bergman

An accomplished nonprofit executive and systems change advocate, Allan Bergman provides rich historical background for understanding the developmental disabilities movement. Topics of this extended interview include: encountering Normalization, opening the first group home in Dallas, learning the role of Medicaid, the “seeds of perversion” that distorted Normalization, failure of community services to provide a normal rhythm of life, our failure to teach history well, and using Normalization in the future.

Extended interviews – Nancy Thaler

Nancy, Thaler, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Developmental Programs for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, reflects on her career in intellectual and developmental disabilities. Topics of this expanded interview include: early work in community services, Wolfensberger’s TIPS Newsletter, the music of Karl Williams, reading Normalization, Wolfensberger and John McKnight, Wolf’s social role perceptions, social behavior, deviancy juxtaposition, “getting” Normalization, context of the early 1970s, early group homes, little institutions, “institution” is our DNA, and support for families.

Archival interview – Gunnar Dybwad

In this archival interview from 1993, Gunnar Dybwad (1909 – 2001), American professor and international advocate for the rights of people with developmental and other disabilities, explains the Normalization Principle and the difference between “normal” and “normative.” For information on Dybwad’s role as an organizational leader, visit Leadership in the History of the Developmental Disabilities Movement .

Archival interview – Bengt Nirje

Archival interview with Dr. Bengt Nirje (1925 – 2006) on the origins of the Normalization Principle. Filmed at Nirje’s home in Uppsala, Sweden in 2002. In this extended interview Nirje describes his visit to Minnesota in the mid-1960s, by invitation of MN Arc director Gerald Walsh, and what he witnessed as he visited institutions across the United States. Nirje credits his development of the Normalization Principle to Walsh’s invitation and support. To learn more about Nirje, visit Leadership in the History of the Developmental Disabilities Movement .

Extended interview – Judith Sandys

Judith Sandys, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Ryerson University, has been involved with Normalization and Dr. Wolfensberger’s work since the early 1970s. Topics of this extended interview include: my introduction to intellectual disabilities, PASS, cult-like perceptions of Wolfensberger workshops, Normalization and self-reflection, reactions to Normalization, choice of the term “normalization,” creating normal conditions, imagery, media representations of disability, age appropriateness, perception of disability as childlike, Normalization as a process, valued social roles, institutional mindset, Normalization misapplied, desire for quick solutions, disability studies, dismissing normalization, an objection to the social model, emphasis on unlimited choice, Wolfensberger and self-determination, self-advocacy, and the term “mental retardation.”

Extended interview – Michael Kennedy

Michael Kennedy, a leader in the self-advocacy movement and former employee of the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University, discusses his journey from institution to group home to his own home. To learn more about people with disabilities in New York – including Michael Kennedy – using individualized support to take greater control of their lives see the documentary We Have Choices .

Extended interview – John Armstrong

John Armstrong is a senior SRV consultant working across Australia and New Zealand, conducting training, consultancy, and evaluation. He is also the inaugural Chair of Citizen Advocacy Australia. In this extended interview, Armstrong provides insight into Wolfensberger’s leadership style, problem-solving acuity, and ability to name and clearly address problems facing people with disabilities; the differences between Normalization and Social Role Valorization; Wolfensberger’s pessimistic world view; and Wolfensberger’s sense of humor.

Extended interview – Jo Massarelli

Jo Massarelli is Director of the SRV Implementation Project, a human service training and consultation concern based in Worcester, Massachusetts. She has a particular interest in advocacy in medical settings and teaches a variety of workshops on protecting vulnerable people in the hospital and on medical decision-making. Topics in this extended interview include: participating in Wolfensberger’s workshops; devaluation; Catholicism; personalism; SRV and PASSING trainings; death making and reactions from advocates in human services; Wolfensberger’s views on human nature; and Wolfensberger’s sense of merriment.

A Tribute to Wolf Wolfensberger by Mike Duggan

A tribute to the life and work of Wolf Wolfensberger by Mike Duggan, consultant and change agent, read by George Mackay. Recorded in Canberra, Australia on September 22, 2011.

A Tribute to Wolf Wolfensberger by Hank Bersani

A tribute to Wolf Wolfensberger by Hank Bersani (1951 – 2012), distinguished scholar, teacher, and advocate who studied under Wolfensberger in the early 1970s. Presented on Nov. 11, 2011 at the Center on Human Policy’s 40th anniversary event in Syracuse, NY.

Tributes to Wolf Wolfensberger, Oct. 2011, Worcester, MA

Memorial tributes to Wolf Wolfensberger recorded on Oct. 22, 2011 in Worcester, MA. Speakers include Jack Yates, Susan Thomas, Christine Shane, Carolyn Barrett, Tom Doody, Andre Blanchet, Tom Kohler, Frank Reed, and Jo Massarelli. The memorial concludes with the singing of “Die Gedanken sind frei” (Thoughts are Free).

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on early leaders

Extended interview with Wolf Wolfensberger on the topic of early gifted leaders in the field of intellectual disabilities and their pedagogical approach. For about two decades in the mid-19th century, training schools for students with mild intellectual disabilities were largely successful.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on idealized asylums

Extended interview with Wolf Wolfensberger on the topic of early asylums and how their appearance was intended to impress with aspirations of “home-like” quarters and adhering to the ideology of moral treatment. The inside of asylums, including institutions, rarely mirrored their exterior beauty. For more information on this topic read Wolfensberger’s The Origin and Nature of our Institutional Models .

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on Normalization

Extended interview with Wolf Wolfensberger on the origins of Normalization, first from Neils Erik Bank Mikkelsen in Denmark and then Bengt Nirje in Sweden. Both of these Scandinavians contributed to Changing Patterns in Residential Services for the Mentally Retarded, a monograph edited by Wolfensberger and Robert Kugel in 1969 for the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation. Wolfensberger describes how he evolved the concept of Normalization to include role theory and early literature on dehumanization and broadened it beyond intellectual disability to include all people who are devalued in society.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on Social Role Valorization

Extended interview with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on Social Role Valorization, developed in part to combat misunderstandings and perversions of Normalization and to place emphasis on the importance of social roles. This theory was more systematic and elaborate than Normalization. Wolfensberger also discusses the PASSING evaluation tool.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on Social Darwinism

Extended interview with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on the topic of Social Darwinism and its historical alliance with materialism. Social Darwinism is a name given to various theories of society that apply biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics. This idea was embraced by many, including a large number of institution superintendents in the early 20th century, contributing to the further devaluation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on disability studies

Extended interview with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on the topics of disability studies, the social construction of disability, and radical individualism. Wolfensberger believed that much of post-modern thought is based upon “invalid assumptions” about human nature, and that “radical individualism” perverted the original idea of Normalization.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on deviancy image juxtaposition

Extended interview with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on the topic of deviancy image juxtaposition, where the meaning of entities juxtaposed in proximity or in time transfers from one to the other. Wolfensberger describes how those devalued in society have been historically connected with entities that have negative associations.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on deathmaking

Extended interview with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on the topic of deathmaking, a term coined to describe practices that consciously or unconsciously abbreviate the lives of devalued people, and to bring attention to the increased threats faced by those who are devalued in society.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on Catholicism

Dr. Wolfensberger discusses his Catholic upbringing, which he describes as a lasting source of strength and of reality. He also discusses services provided historically by the Catholic Church to people in need. For more on this topic read The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger, edited by William Gaventa and David Coulter.

Extended interview – Wolf Wolfensberger on conditions in institutions

Extended interview with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on the inhumane conditions in public institutions in the 1960s and ‘70s. He describes in depth the futility of attempting to reform the facilities and the problem of “total institutions” and “degradation ceremonies” where staff are institutionalized as well in their behaviors. Thinkers Wolfensberger mentions who influenced him through their advocacy and writings in this area include David Vale, Erving Goffman, and Gunnar Dybwad.

Reflections on the history of Normalization by Bengt Nirje and Wolf Wolfensberger

These classroom presentations were delivered May 28, 2003 at Syracuse University’s department of Special Education. Dr. Robert Bogdan introduced Dr. Nirje and Dr. Wolfensberger.