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Worcester State Faculty Commemorate Wolf Wolfensberger

October 24, 2011
By: WSU News

Worcester State University hosted a commemoration of the life and work of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger on Saturday, October 22, 2011. Ninety people attended the event, coming from as far away as Georgia.

Dr. Wolfensberger, a long-time professor of education at Syracuse University, championed the idea of “normalization” that led to the depopulation of institutions for persons with disabilities across the country, and the development of smaller, more typical community-based settings.

In Massachusetts, Wolfensberger’s ideas literally transformed the landscape for persons with developmental disabilities. In the place of six very large state schools for persons with developmental disabilities, people with developmental disabilities are served in a variety of much smaller settings, living in places that look and feel like homes, and having an opportunity to interact in community settings. Most of the state schools in Massachusetts, and all of the state institutions in several New England states have closed completely, replaced with hundreds of smaller settings.

Dr. Wolfensberger’s ideas were especially influential in New England, as many of his students came to work in this area. In addition, he led 65 workshops on normalization or related topics in Massachusetts over the last 40 years. Dr. Wolfensberger’s last public workshop was a workshop on personalism at WSU in May 2010.

Dr. Matthew Johnson (Sociology), one of the organizers of the event, said. “Thinking about the world 50 years ago, people with developmental disabilities were housed in large institutions, many people to a room — and our schools and our communities were largely devoid of persons with developmental disabilities. Wolf’s idea of normalization created a path out of that harsh reality into a new reality filled with promise.”

The event was filmed by videographer Jerry Smith, from Minnesota, who spent the remainder of the day at WSU interviewing participants for a documentary about the impact of Wolfensberger’s ideas on human services.

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