Normalization Research Paper Starter


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Normalization encourages the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the everyday world so that they may, to the fullest extent possible, experience life as individuals without disabilities do. The movement began in Sweden during the 1960s when Bengt Nirje's research discovered that individuals with disabilities who lived at home showed fewer developmental delays than those who were institutionalized. In the United States, normalization has brought the integration of regular and special education classrooms, and the development of community integrated living arrangements which, as much as possible, promote residents' independence.

Keywords Disabled; Family Roles; Group Home; Inclusive Education; Least Restrictive Environment; Lifespan Issues; Normalization; Normalization Principles; People First Language; Public Law 94-142; Residential Care; Sheltered Workshops; Social Role Valorization; Societal Views; Supported Work Environment; Vocational Training

Special Education: Normalization


As a philosophy, normalization is considered an important aspect of special education. Swedish academic Bengt Nirje first coined the word normalization in the late sixties and encouraged its use with individuals with disabilities (Smith & Luckasson, 1995). Normalization promotes that individuals with disabilities should be exposed to and a part of everyday society. Thus, an individual with a disability should experience, just as an individual without a disability, the successes and failures of everyday life. This paper will provide basic information and an understanding of the changes in societal views of disabilities, the beginnings of the normalization movement, concepts of the normalization principle, the spread of normalization, the family's role in normalization, the challenges to the normalization principle, and lifespan issues.

Changes in Societal Views

To some degree, mankind has always recognized the need to provide for individuals with disabilities. However in earlier times, society often chose to ignore the needs of individuals with disabilities. With the spread of Christianity, society began to shift its views and provide for those who were diseased or unable to care for themselves (Beck, 2002; Peterson, 1987). Even though mankind recognized a need for social assistance, early services primarily targeted the basic provision of food, shelter, and clothing for the disabled (Beck, 2002; Cruickshank & Johnson, 1958; Peterson, 1987).

In the middle ages, society continued to provide care and education for individuals with disabilities. In Europe, institutions or residential facilities were established to provide separate living facilities or institutions to serve individuals with disabilities. This trend continued and spread to the United States (Peterson, 1987).

The establishment of residential care facilities in the United States was accepted as a way to provide care for individuals who could not care for themselves (Cruickshank & Johnson, 1958; Peterson, 1987; Smith & Luckasson, 1995). The development and funding of residential schools allowed society to reduce its responsibility for individuals with special needs by providing them training and education. While society recognized a need to provide services, many residential care facilities were built away from town and followed the guidelines established in England (Smith & Luckasson, 1995). Basically, institutions provided limited educational services and basic care (i.e., food, water, and shelther).

Approximately forty years ago, an emerging philosophy of normalization began in Scandinavia (Kebbon, 1997; Smith & Luckasson, 1995). Normalization can be simplified to mean a way to provide children with disabilities the opportunity to be integrated into everyday activities in the school and home environment. Initially, normalization advanced the thought that individuals with mental retardation should live as the rest of society. That is individuals with disabilities should live, work, and be educated as any member of society in his or her community. This principle has spread to include all individuals with disabilities.

In the United States, the principle of normalization was advanced in court cases through civil rights lawsuits and in the passage of Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. The implementation of P.L. 94-142 and its many reauthorizations have focused the public's attention on educating individuals with disabilities in the same manner as the general public. Modifications in public education have influenced changes such as allowing individuals with disabilities to live and experience educational and leisure activities in the same manner as the general public versus living in residential care. This led to the deinstitutionalization of individuals with mental retardation and the emergence of community living arrangements (Powers, 2006).

Prior to the concept of normalization, individuals with disabilities were often viewed as the label that accompanied them. For example, a deaf person or a mentally handicapped person was seen as the disability, not as the individual with a disability. As the idea of normalization spread, advocates began promoting the use of people first language. This language views the individual first and the difference second, as in saying "person who is blind" as opposed to "blind person." The National Easter Seal Society and many other professional and parental organizations promote the use of people first language. The argument for the use of people first language is to advocate that the individual should be considered first and the difference or disability second. By viewing the individual first, people can focus on the individual and his or her unique needs and strengths versus the stereotypic assessments that often accompany a disability label (National Easter Seal Society, n.d.).

Beginnings of the Normalization Movement

Bengt Nirje is credited with proposing the first widely used definition of normalization in the 1960s (Kebbon, 1997; Smith & Luckasson, 1995; Ward, 2005). While working and visiting the developmentally disabled in Sweden, he observed that individuals with significant disabilities who remained at home had fewer developmental delays than individuals with less severe disabilities living in institutions (Nirje, 1969). Thus, he proposed that individuals who had everyday social contacts had more normal outcomes than individuals in segregated environments. Interestingly, he later proposed that normalization was a theory or principle that could be applied, not only to the mentally retarded, to all groups of institutionalized individuals.

The beginning of the normalization movement in the United States started when Nirje was invited by Wolf Wolfensberger to collaborate on projects involving residential care. Wolfensberger was an academician who heavily influenced disability policies and practices in the United States (Sherrill, 2003). He extended Nirje's principle of normalization and developed the principle of social role valorization (Sherrill, 2003), in which the wounds of social devaluation of the handicapped is defended with valued social roles for all people.

Nirje (1969) outlined his principle as a way to make normal life conditions for the mentally retarded depending on his or her unique needs and strengths. Of course, this will not make an individual have normal intelligence. The goal is of normalization is to allow the individual with disabilities to experience daily life as do individuals without disabilities. This includes being able to make choices, express wishes and desires, and the right to self-determination.

The Concepts of Normalization

Nirje (1969) defined the normalization principle as "making available to the mentally retarded patterns and conditions of everyday life which are as close as possible to the norms and patterns of the mainstream of society" (p. 181). According to Renzaglia, Karvonen, Drasgow, and Stoxen (2003), Nirje's normalization principle suggests:

• People with disabilities ought to have lives that are similar to the lives of people without disabilities. Thus, the principle is rooted in the concept of equality.

• People with disabilities ought to have the opportunity to create and pursue good lives that are related to their own personal situations. Thus, the principle is rooted in the concept of quality of life.

• People with disabilities ought to be valued and have the same rights as people without disabilities. Thus, the principle is grounded in the concept of human rights (p. 141).

Generally it is acknowledged that the concept of inclusive education and practice originated from the principle of normalization. Inclusive education philosophically proposes to include versus exclude individuals with disabilities. However, the key principle of inclusive education should be that the education of individuals with disabilities should not be synonymous with a place but a practice of...

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