Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In memory of Wolf Wolfensberger (1934-2011)

My friend and colleague Erik Leipoldt has written this piece on his blog in memory of the academic and disability advocate Professor Wolf Wolfensberger who died recently. As Erik points Wolfensberger was one of the most influential thinkers and practitioner in the disability field worldwide and his work had a significant effect on the lives of people with disabilities. Wolfensberger's ideas changed  the way professionals, policy makers, governments and service providers think about and respond to people with disabilities.

Erik writes:
"Dr Wolfensberger had a strong commitment to people made vulnerable in a society where individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism reign. He made a huge contribution to people with disabilities. He was a visionary, a devastating analyst and honest critic.

......In 1999, seven major developmental disability organizations in the US proclaimed Dr Wolfensberger one of the 35 parties that had been the most impactful on "mental retardation" worldwide in the 20th century. Dr Wolfensberger's work was also recognised by the US magazine 'Exceptional Parent' as one of the great 7 contributions to the lives of people with disabilities, along with Salk and the polio vaccine, braille, Americans with Disabilities Act and the wheelchair.

.....He was perhaps best known for developing social role valorization theory from his, and Nirje's, concepts of normalisation. Social role valorization has been taught to many using and running disability services, and applied to various degrees, in government policies and service practice.

.........Dr Wolfensberger also developed the concept of citizen advocacy, facilitating long-term relationships between a person with disability (or other vulnerable people)and a volunteer citizen.

.............Many people who have disabilities have benefited from his work in a change in focus from disability as a medical issue, or captives of care to one where a good life means living with others and in settings that are normally valued in our society. His work was instrumental in the deinstitutionalisation of thousands of people with disabilities. It has informed disability advocacy. I am aware that in his own life he personally modeled compassionate service to 'needy people', a much used Wolfensberger phrase."

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