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Bengt Nirje on Normalization

Produced by David Goode / The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
Produced in 1993.

Wolf and Gunnar

Bengt Nirje: So parents at home had no support and parents, when their children became adults, there was no choices. So they had to choose between the impossible and the unthinkable. So we were trying to get new legislation, and we got it. [Inaudible] And in this fashion, the principle of normalization. Those were the pressures that led me to find this, gradually find, to understand what the whole situation was about and to express it.

So at this time we said, we were complaining, we said it was normal to live at home for a child. We wanted more home support so children could [Inaudible]. It was normal to go to school, we said, because it was important to have education for all children. It was normal to have a room of your own in our society.

It was normal to move away from home when you become an adult and that therefore there should be services in the community allowing families to have the normal development of the family [Inaudible], that you were able to move away from home but still live in the community, to live as a normal citizen in a normal way of others. That it is normal to have a job, to have something meaningful to do. And this way we started to use normal. [Inaudible] in Danish law. I found the expression that the aim of the law was to create conditions as close to normal as possible for the handicapped. And I used that as a hang up, and I used that as a [Inaudible].

And I started to use it when I was out talking to parents and lecturing. I did a comparison between a day, a normal day and in a normal family, and then a day in a family where the child was severely handicapped. Or I did a weekend with a normal weekend for a family and with a family, or a vacation, etc. So I used this as a [Inaudible]. But gradually as I was doing it, I started to realize there was some kind of context in the whole [Inaudible]. I was coming closer to a kind of a quantum view on things.

It was very hard for me to explain because people were talking within the framework of the [Inaudible] in their specific legislative systems. And when you say this and they say that can't be possible. Because then you talk about [Inaudible], because of the different cultural context, it was very hard to find a commonality.

It was also hard because there were no clear opinions on anything. The psychologist , there were very few, and they had very different positions on this. The teachers had also very different points of view about who were educable and who were not. Whether it was meaningful to do something for those that were obtainable or not. And the social workers were very few and something [Inaudible] institutions should be. And parents couldn't agree on what was best for my child, or for your child. And nobody listened to the family anyways. That was a very silent language.

So then, when we did that international, we also found it was necessary to find ways of expressing things so that things could be understood, so we could relate to each other when we talked about things to do. And that was how it started to dawn on using the word normalization and I started to call it a principle and I did that around '64 or '65.

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.