Wolf Wolfensberger

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Wolf Wolfensberger
Born 1934 (1934)
Mannheim, Germany
Died 27 February 2011(2011-02-27) (aged 76–77)
Syracuse, New York
Education B.A., philosophy, Siena College, 1955
M.A., psychology and education, Saint Louis University, 1957
Ph.D., psychology, George Peabody College for Teachers, 1962
Occupation Professor of Special Education and Director of the Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry at Syracuse University
Years active 1957–2011
Known for disability rights advocacy, normalization principle, social role valorization
Notable work The Principle of Normalization in Human Services (1972)
Spouse(s) Nancy Artz Wolfensberger
Children Margaret Sager, Joan Lloyd, Paul Wolfensberger
Parent(s) Friedrich and Helene Wolfensberger

Wolf Wolfensberger Ph.D. (1934–2011[1]) was a German-American academic who influenced disability policy and practice through his development of North American Normalization and social role valorization (SRV). SRV extended the work of his colleague Bengt Nirje in Europe on the normalization of people with disabilities. He later extended his approach in a radical anti-deathmaking direction: he exposed the Nazi death camps and their targeting of the disabled, and contemporary practices which contribute to geographic differences in longevity.

Early life[edit]

Born in Mannheim, Germany in 1934, Wolfensberger was sent to the countryside for two years during World War II, in order to escape the bombing. He emigrated to the USA in 1950 at 16 years of age.


He studied philosophy at Siena College in Memphis, Tennessee, received a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology at St. Louis University, and a PhD in Psychology from Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University), where he specialized in mental retardation and special education.


Wolfensberger worked at Muscatatuck State School, Indiana ("state school" was a term for US intellectual disability total institutions) and interned at the E.R. Johnstone Training Center, New Jersey. He did a one-year National Institute of Health research fellowship (1962–1963) at Maudsley Hospital, (London, England) studying with Jack Tizard and Neil O'Connor. Wolfensberger was the Director of Research (1963–1964) at Plymouth State Home and Training School (Michigan). He was a mental retardation research scientist at the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute of the University of Nebraska Medical School in Omaha from 1964 to 1971.

Between 1971 and 1973, he was a visiting scholar at the National Institute on Mental Retardation in Toronto, Canada, and was the Director of the Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry at Syracuse University in upstate New York until his death in 2011. He was a friend and colleague of the School of Education at Syracuse University, and supported the awarding of Ph.D.s, "community services" contributions throughout the US and worldwide, and lent support to federal projects such as Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Integration (1985–1995, to Steven J. Taylor, also Professor Emeritus) for which he was not compensated.

Contributions to the field[edit]

Much of Wolfensberger's work has been concerned with ideologies, structures and planning patterns of human service systems, especially concerning persons with intellectual disabilities and their families. He authored and co-authored more than 40 books and monographs, and wrote more than 250 chapters and articles. His books Changing Patterns in Residential Services for the Mentally Retarded, The Principle of Normalization, PASS and PASSING are probably best known since they formed the foundation for the 1970s students entering the workplace. His writing has been translated into 11 languages.

Wolfensberger was the originator of citizen advocacy and social role valorization, and he was the foremost propagator of normalization in North America. In 1999, Wolf Wolfensberger was selected by representatives of seven major mental retardation organizations as one of 35 parties that had been the most impactful on mental retardation worldwide in the 20th century.

Wolfensberger's papers are at the McGoogan Library of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.[2]



Works by Wolf Wolfensberger[edit]

  • Kugel, Robert B.; Wolfensberger, Wolf (1969). Changing Patterns in Residential Services for the Mentally Retarded. Washington, D.C.: President's Committee on Mental Retardation. 
  • Wolfensberger, Wolf (1972). The Principle of Normalization in Human Services. Toronto, Ont.: National Institute on Mental Retardation. 
  • Wolfensberger, W. (1998). A brief introduction to Social Role Valorization: A high-order concept for addressing the plight of societally devalued people, and for structuring human services. (3rd ed.). Syracuse, NY: Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry (Syracuse University).
  • Wolfensberger, W. (2005). The new genocide of handicapped & afflicted people (3rd (rev) ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership & Change Agentry.
  • Wolfensberger, W., & Zauha, H. (1973). Citizen Advocacy And Protective Services For The Impaired And Handicapped. Toronto: National Institute on Mental Retardation.
  • Wolfensberger, W., & Glenn, L. (1975, reprinted 1978). Program Analysis of Service Systems (PASS): A method for the quantitative evaluation of human services: (3rd ed.). Handbook. Field Manual. Toronto: National Institute on Mental Retardation.
  • Wolfensberger, W. & Thomas, S. (2007). PASSING: A tool for analyzing service quality according to Social Role Valorization criteria. Ratings manual (3rd rev. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Training Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership & Change Agentry.
Academic journal articles
  • Wolfensberger, Wolf (February 1991). "Reflections on a Lifetime in Human Services and Mental Retardation". Mental Retardation. American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 29 (1): 1–15. 
  • Wolfensberger, W., Thomas, S., & Caruso, G. (1996). Some of the universal “good things of life” which the implementation of Social Role Valorization can be expected to make more accessible to devalued people. SRV/VRS: The International Social Role Valorization Journal/La Revue Internationale de la Valorisation des Roles Sociaux, 2(2), 12-14.

Secondary Sources[edit]

  • Bersani, Jr., Hank (2001). "Wolf Wolfensberger: Scholar, Change Agent, and Iconoclast". Journal of Religion, Disability & Health. American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 4 (2–3): 1–9. doi:10.1300/J095v04n02_01. 
  • Bleasdale, Michael (1994). "Deconstructing Social Role Valorization". Interaction. 7 (4): 16–22. 
  • Bleasdale, Michael (1996). "Evaluating 'Values': A Critique of Value Theory in Social Role Valorization". Australian Disability Review. Disability Advisory Council of Australia (1): 3–22. 
  • Gaventa, William C.; Coulter, David, eds. (2001). The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Pastoral Press. ISBN 0-7890-1314-2. 
  • Heller, H. William; Spooner, Fred; Schilit, Jeffrey; Enright, Brian E.; Haney, Kay (June 1991). "Classic Articles: A Reflection into the Field of Mental Retardation". Education and Training in Mental Retardation. Council for Exception Children, Division on Autism and Development Disabilities. 26 (2): 202–206. JSTOR 23878589. 
  • Kristiansen, Kristjana; Traustadóttir, Rannveig (2011). "In Memoriam: Wolf Wolfensberger (1934-2011)". Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research. Nordic Network on Disability Research. 13 (2): 167–168. doi:10.1080/15017419.2011.579492. 
  • Mann, Glenys; van Kraayenoorda, Christa (2011). "The Influence of Wolf Wolfensberger and His Ideas". International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. Routledge. 58 (3): 203–211. doi:10.1080/1034912X.2011.598374. 

External links[edit]