Disability rights movement loses early pioneer

Wolf Wolfensberger, one of the disability rights movement’s most respected inclusion and anti-institutionalization theorists, died February 27 at age 76. The long time activist was known as a stirring and controversial speaker.

In the 1970s, he popularized the normalization principle, defined as “making available to all people with disabilities patterns of life and conditions of everyday living which are as close as possible to the regular circumstances and ways of life or society,” according to a statement from the Syracuse University Training Institute for Human Service Planning Leadership and Change Agentry, which Wolfensberger directed.

He then honed the related principle of social role valorization: the idea that society tends to label groups of people as “different.”

“(He was) a major early promoter and organizer of community services for the mentally retarded, he worked tirelessly to liberate societally devalued people from oppression and improve their social position,” according to an obituary from the The Post Standard in Syracuse.

The co-author of more than 40 books, his most known publications are Changing Patterns in Residential Services for the Mentally Retarded, The Principle of Normalization, PASS, and PASSING.

“No other body of work has been as influential in shaping the way that people think and act with respect to the inclusion of people who have an intellectual disability in our society,” according to an obituary <link no longer available> from the Inclusion Network.