Bengt Nirje on Normalization
Produced by David Goode / The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
Produced in 1993.
Introduction to Bengt Nijre by David Goode
David Goode: I was introduced to Bengt a few years ago. Bengt comes from the Center for Handicap Research in Uppsala, Sweden, associated with the University of Uppsala. It's a beautiful university in Sweden near Stockholm, the oldest university, I believe, in Sweden. And I've known him for four or five years, and I met him through a man named Lars Kebbon who's the director of that center.
But of concern today, really, is his history as a human service and disabilities expert and a distinguished…career in service to persons with developmental disabilities and their families, and I would say that's true both in Sweden and internationally. Bengt will tell you about some of the early pre-disability history, but in terms of disability, he served in 1961 and '71 as the ombudsman. The ombudsman, it also means kind of executive director for the Swedish Association for Retarded Citizens and there he dealt with the pressure of politics, the issue of politics of disabilities within Sweden, issues of legislation.
He established something called ALA, which is a research foundation to heighten disability research, in Sweden and this is in 1961, in that era. He was a pioneer in the area of social training for adults and adult education for persons with disabilities in Sweden. He also is very active in Swe….and established the Swedish Handicapped Sports Association and was very active in international sports associations for persons with disabilities.
Between '71 and '78 which is where he met Wolfensberger, he was in Ontario, Canada, where he served for the government of Ontario as the coordinator of training and institutional programming and then later on for the Ministry of Health as a coordinator of program development and community services… vice versa.
He went back to Uppsala in 1978 where he served as a director of mental retardation services in Uppsala, and I spent some time with him there in Uppsala. Then since '85, he's been associated with the Center for Handicap Research at the University of Uppsala. Bengt.
Bengt Nirje: Thank you, David. [Inaudible] for me to be here. And I'm very happy to meet David again because we know about David's work over in Scandinavia and we also learn from him the very difficult [Inaudible], which is very nice to know and understand and part of which I relate to very strongly. [Inaudible]. So in a way I would like to dedicate this lecture to David Goode and perhaps even put if from Good to Goode. I mean from Barbara Good to David Goode, and some of it might clear up. Barbara was the first mentally handicapped person that was on the board of the International League of the Societies for the Mentally Handicapped. She was an old friend of mine. We have been working together from many, many years ago. There are two good Goodes.
Now, or I could say from Willowbrook to Willowbrook because it's from my history and my experience. I got the book and that award some years ago and I wrote a chapter, my impression on American institutions, and I had the honor to have it presented next to the version of purgatory. That purgatory that [Inaudible] for changing practices in residential services. That's where I published the normalization principle. Come back to that one later. And it's great to be…to see this. I wasn't allowed to come here once upon a time. They sent me to a lecture, lecture up there instead to do that. Which is just as bad I guess. [Inaudible]
Now I could also have a 25-year [Inaudible] That's what I'm celebrating soon, so I went into to try Old Howard, Old Willard down in Washington the other day and had a dry martini. Fond memories of when I was dropped in there and the Minister of Health, Education and Welfare to write the Principle of Normalization in three days and nights. Of course [Inaudible] I had to do it. And of course I'm very happy for that.
And that started my reputation, and I've been going around and sometimes in places in airplanes and in buses and so on. And people ask what I'm doing here? I'm here to raise your taxes. And I'm here to blow up your institutions. And I'm here to provide more political power for persons of intellectual [Inaudible]. And then I could go on reading a good book quietly. And sometimes I'd get some very good discussions and talks. And the fun of it was that it is important to service them and that I was doing, which I had to do.