New Film Spotlights Professor and His Groundbreaking Theory

June 2016

Updated July 2016

GRAPHIC of film camera"Valuing Lives: Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization," a just-released film, explores the principle of normalization, an idea that challenged fundamental assumptions about people with intellectual disabilities. The challenger was Wolf Wolfensberger, an iconoclastic professor whose intense, multi-day workshops trained thousands of human services professionals in the theory and practice of normalization.

Originating in Scandinavia in the 1960s, normalization meant "making available to all people with disabilities the patterns of life and conditions of everyday living which are as close as possible to the regular circumstances and ways of life or society." In the early 1970s, professor Wolfensberger expanded normalization into a framework for human services. His book Normalization provided a theoretical blueprint for community inclusion as the deinstitutionalization movement was gaining strength. His concept of normalization has had a significant effect on the design of services and supports, in North America and internationally. Celia Feinstein, Co-Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University says that when Wolfensberger wrote the book in 1972, nearly 200,000 Americans with intellectual disabilities were warehoused in large institutions. "Wolfensberger's principle of normalization was instrumental in shaping the leadership and values necessary to close institutions that warehoused people, including Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania."

When institutions began to close during 1980s, Wolfensberger replaced the term "normalization," with Social Role Valorization, a complex expansion of his ideas with a greater emphasis on valued social roles. According to Guy Caruso, the Institute's Western Coordinator, Wolfensberger's teachings grew in scope and complexity. "He began to address more controversial topics as society's willingness to abbreviate the lives of those who are devalued, a process he called 'deathmaking,'" Caruso says.

Today, people with disabilities are still housed in institutions and some providers and parents are calling for new, segregated communities where their children will be safer "with their own kind." "How quickly we forget the errors of the past," Caruso adds.

"As our society considers how to best support individuals with disabilities in living lives of freedom, and valued social roles," Feinstein says, "it is time for a new generation of leaders to embrace the concepts embedded in the principle of normalization and social role valorization to help ensure that all people with disabilities have the opportunity to live a valued life in the community."

"Valuing Lives: Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization" was directed by Jerry Smith, Research & Training Center on Community Living at University of Minnesota; produced by Guy Caruso, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University and Jerry Smith; executive producer Amy Hewitt, Research & Training Center on Community Living at University of Minnesota.

To purchase, or to rent, "Valuing Lives: Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization" can be purchased or rented from the website of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.

Dates for screenings of Valuing Lives have been announced.

List of screening dates in 2016

8/02 - Reinventing Quality Conference - Baltimore, MD
Guy Caruso and Jerry Smith will lead post-screening discussion

8/15 and 17th - IASSIDD World Congress - Melbourne, Australia
John Armstrong will lead post-screening discussion

9/14 - Millersvillle University Disability Film Festival - Millersville, PA
Guy Caruso will lead post-screening discussion

9/15 - Everyday Lives Conference - Hershey, PA
Guy Caruso will lead post-screening discussion

9/22 - Community Living Conference - Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada
Judith Sandys and Donna Marcaccio will lead post-screening discussion

11/2 - NADD 33rd Annual Conference - Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Ray LeMay will lead post-screening discussion

12/04 - AUCD 2016 Conference - Washington, D.C.
Jerry Smith and Guy Caruso will lead post-screening discussion

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Institute on Disabilities at Temple University
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