The post about Wolf Wolfensberger is a popular one, so I’ve followed on with some more information about the clinical psychologist. As we know he has had a strong influence on disability policies in the USA and Canada during his years throughout the 20th century. It is generally agreed that this man has been one of the most influential to the lives of people who are living with disabilities.
Primarily, it is Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger’s principle of Normalization and his principle of Social Role Valorisation that have had the biggest effect on the way services have been delivered to the disabled, which have spread from the USA throughout the world to the United Kingdom, Australia and Europe.
The principle of normalization involves offering people who have a disability as normal a way of life as possible by offering them the same conditions as everyone else. This involves the same access to education, work, housing, freedom of choice and employment that those who aren’t disabled will receive and are quite often take for granted. In the 21st century is might seem obvious that those with disabilities should be given the same options in life as the rest of us, but before Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger stepped in people with disabilities would have been excluded from normal society or forced to adapt to difficult surroundings. Thanks to the principle of normalisation, it is now common to adapt the surroundings to enable the individual to live as fulfilled and normal live as possible.
Making the world a better place
Dr. Wolfensberger’s work was primarily focused on people with learning difficulties who were often institutionalised and generally considered by society to be uncontrollable and unable to be educated. To put an end to the institutionalisation of people with learning difficulties it was important to ensure that the end of institutionalisation didn’t leave people isolated even further from society. This is where normalisation and social role valorisation came into play with our social and community services.
Social role valuation is based on the idea that people will generally view other people who are different and in a minority as have less value to society as a whole and as individuals and so it is important to provide the individual with a valued role to fill. This role could be a friend, family member, employee or any other role that is considered by society as being important.
Throughout history, a person who had learning difficulties had been considered to be of less value and less able to contribute to society than the general population. Normalization and social role valuation is about changing that perception of people with disabilities and providing the circumstances and opportunities that will allow them to partake in as normal day to day life as possible and be a part of society much the same as everyone else.
Normalization can include simple concepts such as age appropriateness. When someone has learning difficulties they may take longer to learn than other people. If a person with learning difficulties is twenty-five years old, but has the learning rate of a six year old it is still important that they are treated and spoken to as an adult.
It is primarily the importance of the caregiver to ensure that the principle of normalization takes place. If the individual is dressed like a child and engages in childlike activities and possessions then it is not possible for them to be an adult within themselves or to be viewed as an adult buy the outside world.
Should the individual enjoy childlike activities such as playing with dolls, then it is up to the caregiver to question whether the individual could engage with the same items in a different way. Many adults who don’t have learning difficulties have hobbies that could be considered childlike, but the way that they engage with the items is different. For example, many men collect toy cars or enjoy model railways.
Consider whether the individual with learning difficulties could be exposed to other activities that they might enjoy that aren’t seen as so childish.
There are many other ways that you can encourage normalization so that the life of the individual you are caring for can become as ‘normal’ as possible. At every opportunity it is important that they are able to experience as much as possible in the outside world so that they can learn more. This allows them to observe how other people interact with the world and with each other. A person with learning difficulties will never be able to live a normal life or have the best opportunities for them if they are shielded from the outside world.
It’s also important that the individual with learning difficulties have their skills in dressing appropriately developed. People are judged by how they act and look and (albeit, quite sadly) the way an individual is dressed will have an effect on how they are treated.
Normalization also involves extremely basic things such as having a normal rhythm of the day. Getting up and dressed in the morning, not having to go to be earlier than everyone else just because you have a disability and being allowed to make choices for yourself when you have the cognitive ability instead of having choices made for you.
These things might seem small, but dramatically changes the way the world perceives people with learning difficulties, and in turn will change the way the individual will see themselves.