Valuing Lives: Wolf Wolfensberger and the Principle of Normalization

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A film documenting the social paradigm shift triggered by Wolf Wolfensberger, a professor and change agent who, in the early 1970s, popularized and expanded the principle of normalization of people with disabilities into a framework for community inclusion.

People are often judged according to how they conform to commonly-held beliefs of what is normal - normal appearance, behavior, ability. And those deemed "abnormal" can be considered undeserving of common respect, dignity, and even basic rights. For many with intellectual and developmental disabilities, this has meant segregation, isolation, and exclusion, with little or no opportunity to access the good things in life.

Through archival images and footage, and dozens of interviews, Valuing Lives explores the principle of normalization, an idea originating in Scandinavia that challenged fundamental assumptions about people with intellectual disabilities, and the iconoclastic professor whose writings and intense workshops trained thousands of human services professionals in the theory and practice of this idea. This brought about a sea change in thinking at a time when it was considered normal to warehouse nearly 200,000 Americans with intellectual disabilities in large institutions. Wolfensberger helped change the conversation from institutional reform to rethinking society's assumptions of disability and the role of human services.

There are still institutions for people with intellectual disabilities, and some voices are calling for new, segregated communities where, it is believed, they will be safer "with their own kind." It is time for a new generation of leaders to rediscover the principle of normalization.

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