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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
The ADA Legacy Project

Moments in Disability History 16

Wolfensberger's Influence

American social constructs were dehumanizing for people with disabilities in the decades leading up to the Americans with Disabilities Act. No one better imparts the details, consequences, and ramifications of the origins and evolution of our history on the attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities than Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger.

Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger was a professor and Director of the Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry at Syracuse University. Much of Dr. Wolfensberger's work was concerned with ideologies, structures and planning patterns of human service systems, especially concerning people with developmental disabilities and their families. He was the originator of Citizen Advocacy and Social Role Valorization, and the foremost proponent of normalization in North America.

Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger
Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger

In this 27 minute clip, Dr. Wolfensberger begins to chronicle the rise of social justice, compassion, dignity, transformation and empowerment from the "profound bankruptcy of vision," to the "might makes right" power politics of professionals and services in the 1950s, '60s, and'70s.

Video: What Has Gotten Better, Part One,
Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger's lecture in September 1998 at Millersville University,

If it wasn't for the American normalization movement's positive influence on the American Civil Rights movement, the Disability Rights movement may have had a very different focus – attempts to improve institutions and segregated places rather than promotion of inclusion and integration in the community.

In this 6 minute clip, Dr. Wolfensberger describes how the American normalization movement's influence on education, and indirectly on the legal profession, brought the treatment of people with disabilities out of the programmatic construct and into the legal construct. Dr. Wolfensberger notes, however, that this evolution did not come without its own "mischief".

Susan Thomas
Susan Thomas,
Training Coordinator

Video: What Has Gotten Better, Part Three: The Rights Movement,
Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger's lecture in September 1998 at Millersville University,

The federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act) was one of the earliest pieces of legislation to have been influenced by Dr. Wolfensberger. Under former Senator Lowell Weicker's leadership, the 1984 amendments to the DD Act preceded the Americans with Disabilities Act with legislative language that promoted independence, productivity and integration.

Allan Bergman, a nationally recognized leader in influencing state and federal public policy relating to people with disabilities, discusses the significance of these landmark declarations of valued outcomes.

Video:  Allan Bergman on 1984 Reauthorization of the DD Act:

William Bronston, M.D., led the exposure and class action law suit against the State of New York's infamous Willowbrook State School on Staten Island in 1971. In 1975, he returned to California and served as a children and adult, disability services policy physician for two State of California departments. He is the founder, and chief executive officer, of the not for profit World Independence Fund Tower of Youth.

Allan Bergman
Allan Bergman

In speaking about Dr. Wolfensberger, Dr. Bronston notes that Wolf asks and gives no quarter in his telling of the history of human services, including the disability rights movement. Wolf is authoritative and judgmental. He challenges those who may feel they are playing a confident and active role in promoting social justice, compassion, dignity, transformation and empowerment. Wolfensberger's lessons provide insight on what more needs to be done and what needs to be done differently.

Near the end of this 23 minute clip, Dr. Wolfensberger raises cautions about the perversities associated with the disability rights movement, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recognizing how we have fallen short inspires us to do better.

Dr. William Bronston
Dr. William Bronston

Video: What Is Still the Same, New Problems That Have Arisen, and Things That Have Gotten Worse, Part Three.
Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger's lecture in September 1998 at Millersville University,

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