Throughout history, people experiencing disabilities have been subject to marginalization and segregation. The conditions under which people lived in US institutions when Keystone was founded in 1972 were horrific, and sadly, typical. It was not uncommon for over 100 people to have to share a single bedroom, there was no due process, the environments were filthy and brutal, and often medical care was non-existent. People were frequently bathed in gang showers and were often placed in nude seclusion for days on end. Electro-shock was routinely administered as a behavioral control.

All of these components were present in the lives of the people who lived in institutions at the time of Keystone's founding. It is a tribute to their individual will and endurance that they are now living full successful lives in the community after having come home from institutions. As we continue with our work, a deep understanding of these issues is an essential safeguard to assure we do not contribute to the wounding of vulnerable people. For more information on the historical context of this reality, see the KHS History links especially the web page for People First of Tennessee and the KHS History web page.

The following SRV concepts help to define the elements and process of wounding, making it more probable that they will be recognizable in contemporary society. The following material has been adapted from original work by Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger. Over the last thirty years, Dr. Wolfensberger has had a profound influence on the entire community movement, including Keystone.

Common Elements of Wounding in the Lives of Devalued Persons

  • Experiencing the impact of Physical Disability
  • Being unequal before the law including being denied full citizenship
  • Being rejected by family, neighbors, community, society and service workers
  • Having restrictions placed on one's free speech, movement or choice of residence.
  • Being cast into one or more historical devalued roles with recurrent relegation to a marginal social status
  • Symbolic stigmatization by marking or labeling the person or their possessions or other related imaging
  • Being subject to continued and multiple threats and vulnerabilities
  • Being separated from valued persons via segregation, isolation, institutionalization, incarceration and congregation.
  • Not having control over one's life including loss of autonomy and freedom and, at times, being subject to unrestrained personal domination.
  • Being separated from one's home, family, community, physical environment and possessions.
  • Broken or lost relationships including abandonment and the absence of natural and freely given relationships
  • De-individualization, objectification and denial of one's cultural identity.
  • Involuntary economic poverty and exploitation accompanied by denial of economic opportunity
  • Exclusion from knowledge and participation in activities (community, religion, education, leadership, relationships, acquisition of status and power) that give meaning and value to life
  • Impoverishment of life experience
  • Having one's major life role being defined as that of a "Client" and or "Consumer".
  • Having one's life wasted through being forced to participate in meaningless, time wasting activities.
  • Brutalization, including vulnerability to life-threatening (deadly) processes including inadequate or dangerous health care practices.
  • Loss of personal history, identity and cultural heritage
  • Awareness of being a source of anguish to loved ones and absence of opportunity to contribute to family and community.

Social Deviance

A person becomes perceived as "deviant" by:
Being different from others in one or more dimension which are perceived as being significant by a majority of the empowered segment of society who value this different-ness negatively.

Control of Social Deviance - Hierarchy of Interventions
Verbal attack and rejection (antilocution)
Isolation and segregation
Physical attack

—Adapted from work by Gordon Alport (The Nature of Prejudice)


Conduct based on making a distinction on natural or social categories, which have no relation either to individual capacities or merits, or to the concrete behavior of the individual person.

Historical Interpretations of Devalued Persons
As animal or subhuman species
As a menace or threat to society
As a vegetable
As an object (commodity)
As a burden of charity
As an object of ridicule
As a sick or diseased person
As an eternal child
As a holy innocent
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Objects
Facility image or history as warehouse.
Language which uses objectification and words such as: "beds", "slots", "bods", "material", "cases", "covered lives" or referring to people or programs by numbers.
Speaking about people in their presence as if they were absent, invisible, non existent or insensitive.
Referring to people by their disability or condition: "an MR", "the homeless", "the clients", "the kids", "the chronics", "the bag lady", "wheelchair people", "the disabled", "the kidney in 302"
Procedures that treat people as objects that can be transferred, traded, owned, purchased or moved around at the will of others.
Reimbursement policies that cast people in consumer roles (being valued for their ability to consume services and generate revenue) with economic value or as a commodity.
Holding providers accountable for "client behavior"
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Menaces
Expressed need for external control: conspicuous locks, door handles that don’t work, panoptic staff stations, use of transvisual partitions, electric eyes, TV monitors.
Barred windows, security fences, security stations, cage imagery, seclusion rooms
Use of restraints
Convict style garb and hair cuts
Alarming signs: "caution handicapped", "no trespassing", "no firearms"
Co-located with a penitentiary or detention center
Absence of private areas
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Animals
Denial of human sensibilities, e.g.; no heat, no privacy for toileting, bathing, mass showers, noise, offensive odors, hose showers, filth, etc.
Implication that residents lack judgment and need external control such as staff controlled lights, temperature, access
Expectation of primitive or animal like behavior; use of heavy-duty, immovable, soil proof furniture, caged TV, drains in floors
Implications that people need protection against themselves, e.g.; no toilet or shower doors, no locks on bedrooms, no sharp objects
Staff land - areas including bathrooms exclusively for use of staff
Acceptance of nudity (denuditive behavior)
Lack of instruction and support in personal hygiene
Animal like "feeding" procedures
Use of animal names for people, conditions or programs
Use of animal protection agencies for child protection services
Talking about persons in their presence without including them in the conversation
Use of "the..."
Fund raising that is animal imaged
Extension of animal rights based on perceived level of consciousness
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Objects of Pity
Donation plaques on walls
Decals, logos, signs declaring service is funded by.........
Collection of discarded and cast off goods as revenue source
Image association with recycled goods
Sale of goods produced by the "handicapped"
Emphasizing persons misfortunes as a base of fund raising
Underpaying workers with disabilities
Agency names which suggest pity
Imaging salvation with salvaging discarded goods and people
Use of "poster children"
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Objects of Ridicule
Clown and circus decor in a facility
Use of carnivals and circus for fund raising
Display of people as a curiosity or for ridicule
Encouraging or teaching bizarre, or inappropriate behaviors
Ridiculing or mocking odd characteristics of people, e.g.; tellingdemeaning jokes, imitating, teasing
Identifying fund raising activities with clowns or with a jokester identity
Dressing people who are devalued to look like clowns, hoboes or buffoons
Failure to provide instruction and support to eliminate devalued mannerisms or conditions
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Sick/Diseased
Facility design, appearance, name or history medical in nature
Located next to medical facility or owned or administered by a medical facility
Treating non-medical conditions with medical terms
Use of hospital schedules, shifts, visiting hours
Residents dressed in hospital garb
Labeling non-medical programs or services with medically imaged names
Interpreting ordinary problems or challenges of life as sickness that require medical solutions
Common Ways of "Marking" or Negative Imaging of Devalued Persons
Putting service to people at value risk into value tainted locations and facilities
Imaging (juxtaposing) people at value risk with persons who have different negative images, e.g.; MH/MR
Use of value and image impairing methods or activities in providing services to persons at image risk
Providing persons at image risk with image impairing names and labels
Use of image impairing agency names, logos and public relations
Neglecting the personal appearance of people at risk
Neglecting the appearance and image of program sites
Funding service to people at risk with devaluing appeals
Imaging adults at risk as children
Interpretations of Devalued Persons as Eternal Children
Encouraging immature interests
Encouraging actual or the perception of lowered competence
Locating adult services next to or as part of children’s services
Promoting child like roles, expressions and language
Promoting age and competence degrading interests in recreation, hobbies and other activity.
Dressing adults in styles and fashions that are age-inappropriate being childlike or immature.
Use of age-degrading forms of address and personal reference that cast adults in the role of children or adolescents

Major Themes of Social Role Valorization

The Role of the Unconscious
The unconscious has a powerful impact on human service planning and operations and the ultimate social role of vulnerable people.
Social Devaluation
The process of social devaluation can have a devastating impact on the lives vulnerable people.
Unintended Consequences
The real effect of complex processes are not easily understood or anticipated.
Model Coherency
Model coherency is a critical concept in human service planning.
Image Compensation
We strive to provide positive compensation in image and identity for people that are at high image or competency risk.
Conservation Corollary
The "conservation corollary" is a major strategy of protecting persons at significant image risk, particularly through strategies such as image compensation.
Symbolism and imagery have a powerful impact in creating both valued or devalued social role expectancies for vulnerable people.
Role Expectancy
Role expectancy and role circularity are significant determinates in creating valued and devalued roles for people at risk. We work hard to increase the availability of positive roles.
Developmental Model
The Developmental Model and increasing personal competency are effective tools in creating valued outcomes in peoples lives.
Imitation, modeling and identification have significant impact on actual and or perceived competence and valued social roles.
Social Integration
Social integration and active participation in the family and community contribute significantly to the well being, competence, and safety of persons at risk.

by Dennis W. Felty, June 15, 1995