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Wolf Wolfensberger


Dr. Wolfensberger was an originator of Social Role Valorization and the Normalization Principle, concepts that strongly influenced disability policy and practice in the US and Canada. He was widely recognized as a major contributor to the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities in the 20th century and had a reputation for being a stirring and controversial speaker.

Dr. Wolfensberger was born in Mannheim, Germany and emigrated at age 16 to the US.  His undergraduate degree was earned at Siena College in Memphis, Tennessee; he earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology at St. Louis University and a doctorate in psychology from Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University) where he specialized in mental retardation and special education.

His professional positions included postings at Muscatatuck State School (Indiana),  E.R. Johnstone Training Center (New Jersey), Maudsley Hospital (London, England), Plymouth State Home and Training School (Michigan), Nebraska Psychiatric Institute of the University of Nebraska Medical School, National Institute on Mental Retardation in Toronto, Canada, and the Institute for Human Service Planning, Leadership and Change Agentry at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

He was the author and co-author of more than 40 books and monographs, and more than 250 chapters and articles. His writing has been translated into 11 languages. His best known books were Changing Patterns in Residential Services for the Mentally Retarded, The Principle of Normalization, PASS, and PASSING.

Videos of lectures delivered by Dr. Wolfensberger in 1998 are available on the Minnesota Developmental Disabilities Council’s website:


Click here to make a donation to AAIDD in his memory.

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