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One of the most important contributions to the disabilities movement was the concept of normalization. In 1959, a group of parents in Denmark organized to petition their government for better treatment of their sons and daughters with mental retardation. Working with Niels Erik Bank-Mikkelsen, they put into very simple terms the concept of "normalization."

The concept did not refer to making people "normal," to make them behave a certain way, but rather to live according to a normal pattern, "making available to [people who are] mentally retarded the patterns and conditions of everyday life which are as close as possible to the norms and patterns of the mainstream of society." Normalization reflected a lifestyle and one dramatically opposed to that of the institutions.

Bengt Nirje
Bengt Nirje

Dr. Bengt Nirje, secretary general of the Swedish Parents Association for Mentally Retarded Children, worked with Bank-Mikkelsen and Karl Grunewald in formalizing the principle of normalization. Dr. Nirje described the Normalization Principle as:

  1. A normal rhythm of the day (eating, sleeping);
  2. A normal routine (living, work, school);
  3. A normal rhythm of year (holidays);
  4. Normal developmental experiences;
  5. The chance to make choices;
  6. The right to live heterosexually (not segregated into "men only" or "women only" accommodations);
  7. A normal economic standard;
  8. The right to live, work and play in normal communities.

Denmark and Sweden put the normalization principle into law. Dr. Nirje translated the concept into English and published the concept in the 1969 President's Report on Mental Retardation, where it had a tremendous impact on American professionals.