Until the 1970’s in the United States and Canada, provisions (one can hardly call them ‘services’) for people with intellectual impairments were totally dominated by large, locked institutions, in which people were confined in nightmarish conditions. In response to a scandal at the state institution in Nebraska in the late 1960’s, the governor appointed a citizen’s commission to look into abuses and propose remedial steps. Wolf Wolfensberger, a professor at the University of Nebraska medical college, was appointed to the commission and became its intellectual driving force. The governor’s commission of parents, civic leaders, and academics went beyond its original mandate and developed proposals for a system of community services to replace the institution, implementations of which was effectively begun.
The Nebraska initiative responded to negative (in fact abysmal) conditions of segregation and even dehumanization. But Dr. Wolfensberger introduced positive principles to guide their proposals, based partly on an idea he had encountered from Sweden and Denmark called “normalization.” Provisions for people with impairments should, that principle posited, be as much as possible like those for ordinary (valued) citizens, using normal settings and interaction patterns and rhythms of the day, week, and year.
First in Nebraska, then in two years as a visiting scholar at the National Institute on Mental Retardation in Toronto, Wolfensberger systematized and taught this new “principle of normalization,” especially extending the Scandinavian idea to include social integration of people into the larger community, and extending its application to any devalued group, not only people with intellectual impairment. He wrote the hugely influential text by the same title, and he began to teach multi-day workshops in understanding and implementing the principle.
These workshops were called PASS (Program Analysis of Service Systems), a training and program evaluation instrument developed with Wolfensberger and Linda Glenn in 1973. Workshops were first taught in Toronto and at Syracuse University (where Wolfenberger joined the faculty in 1973 and founded his Training Institute), and scores of these five- and six-day workshops were taught in many states and provinces through the 1970’s and 80’s. In 1980, Wolfensberger and Susan Thomas developed a clearer and more effective program evaluation instrument, PASSING, which has been used ever since not only for powerful evaluation of programs and systems, but also to teach normalization and its successor principle, Social Role Valorization, in multi-day workshops. Also during the 1980’s, Wolfensberger and his associates taught these principles at workshops extending beyond Canada and the United States to several other countries, especially Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
Parallel to the refinement of PASS into PASSING, Wolfensberger and associates in the early 1980’s refined and added to the ideas which underlay them. The key explanatory and strategic power of social roles became central to the teaching, and the principle of Social Role Valorization was developed and elaborated. It is now taught in workshops and colleges and universities through much of the world, and has inspired thousands of workers, parents, and people with impairments in improving services, improving people’s life conditions, and improving our communities.