UPDATE: Wolf Wolfensberger part 2
Two of the most influential concepts that have helped shape disability policy around the world are “The Normalisation Principle” and “Social Role Valorisation”. Whilst they sound like complex ideas, they are actually quite simple to understand with a small amount of background reading.
Both concepts were coined by Dr Wolf Wolfensberger. He was a world-renowned disabilities advocate who made dozens of important contributions to social policy that helped improve the lives of people with disabilities. This article will first take a brief look at Dr Wolfensberger’s illustrious career before explaining the two concepts.
Dr Wolf Wolfensberger
Born in Germany in 1934, Dr. Wolfensberger emigrated to the United States in 1850 ,when he was 16-years-old. A bright student, he studied Psychology, earning his degree from Siena College in Memphis, Tennessee then going on to obtain his Phd from Peabody College for Teachers (now known as Vanderbilt University). Dr. Wolfensberger’s doctorate focussed on mental retardation and special education.
He always had an interest in helping people with disabilities and most of his work focussed on improving the quality of life of the disabled. Over the years, Dr Wolfensberger held a variety of teaching, research and advocacy positions. He worked with disabled people directly, studied the causes of mental retardation and advocated for the rights of the disabled.
A great deal of his work was to do with the ideologies and structures involved in the human services system — examining how government bodies interacted with the disabled and their families. He wrote more than 40 books and was one of the world’s foremost experts on disability policy. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 76.
The Normalisation Principle
Put simply, The Normalisation Principle is about giving disabled people the same patterns of everyday living as everyone else.
For normalisation to occur, disabled people must have the same level of acceptance as other people and have access to the same conditions. Disabled people should be able to participate in the world in exactly the same ways that other people might.
The normal conditions of life should be available to all disabled people, which includes education, exercise, work, recreation, housing and freedom of choice. Many of these normal patterns of everyday living have previously been unavailable to disabled individuals and the normalisation principle attempts to change that.
The principle has led to important government reforms that enhance the social integration of people with disabilities and remove barriers preventing them from having a normal life.
The theory of normalisation has had a huge impact on the types of services available to disabled people in government systems. The normalisation principle has helped formulate the social services necessary to enable disabled people to gain their freedom and independence.
Social Role Valorisation
This concept was first described by Dr Wolfensberger in 1983 as an extension of the principle of normalisation. Social Role Valorisation (SRV) is described by Dr Wolfensberger as “The application of what science can tell us about the enablement, establishment, enhancement, maintenance, and/or defence of valued social roles for people” — quite a mouthful! Let’s break down that definition a bit.
The goal of social role valorisation is to support socially valued roles for people, because when a person holds one of those roles they receive the good things in life from that society. A socially valued role can be any number of things included an employee, a good neighbour, a friend, a husband, an artist and so on.
Dr Wolfensberger suggests that a disabled person has the right to be one or more of those things, especially because those valued roles receive rewards from society. Some of the “good things” that you can receive from society for holding a socially valued role include:
• A home and your own family
• Respect, dignity, freedom, acceptance
• A sense of belonging to the community
• A sense of contribution to the community
• The ability to develop and exercise your abilities
• The ability to voice you opinions to the community and participate in events within the community
Social role valorisation can be particularly useful for those who are already societally devalued or have more risk of being socially devalued. Disabled people are at risk of being socially devalued because of real or perceived physical or functional impairments they may have.
Now we get to the good stuff — how social role valorisation actually addresses the problem! One way is to enhance the perceived value of the social roles a person performs — called “image-enhancement”. The other is to increase the competencies of the person to improve their capabilities and perceived value — called “ competency-enhancement”.
There are also four distinct levels where image-enhancement or competency-enhancement can be carried out within society:
• The individual
• The individual’s social system(friends, family etc)
• Close social systems (neighbours, community, service providers)
• The large society
A competency-enhancing skill might be some training which helps an individual perform certain tasks in their community. Social valorisation through image-enhancement might involve helping people understand the importance of a role another person is performing.
The Normalisation Principle and Social Role Valorisation have both played an important role in the shaping of public policy. They have helped change the way the public perceives disabled people and have helped disabled people achieve a greater level of social equality.
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