VII. The Self-Advocacy Movement - 1980s to Present B. Origins of the Self Advocacy Movement
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"Don't think we don't think."

Dr. Bengt Nirje


In the late 1960s, Dr. Bengt Nirje, director of the Swedish Association for Persons with Mental Retardation, organized a club, comprised of people with mental retardation and people without mental retardation. The club had no leaders, and the rules were quite simple: members would meet to plan an outing, they would later go on an outing, and they would then meet afterward to talk about their experiences.

Dr. Nirje's idea was to provide persons with developmental disabilities "normal" experiences in the community, which sometimes involved personal risk. Club members without disabilities, who were college students, were expected to allow club members with disabilities to make their own decisions, even if mistakes were made.

This program was radical at a time when persons with developmental disabilities were thought incapable of making their own decisions. Most professionals and parents believed that persons with disabilities should be protected at all costs. Dr. Nirje, however, disagreed and stated: "To be allowed to be human means to be allowed to fail."