ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) –More than 50 years ago, the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island was exposed for its horrific treatment of those with developmental disabilities. The documentary, “The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook”, was produced by the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, in partnership with OGS Media Services to remind the world of the importance of inclusion in all aspects of community life.
“Children with special needs weren’t even allowed in the Board of Education until 1974. They were considered ’ineducateables’. The concept blows your mind,” explained former Willowbrook employee Diane Buglioli.
Willowbrook State School was the largest institution in the world for people with disabilities. When Geraldo Rivera’s ‘TV Expose’ revealed the inner workings of the institution to a national audience, a domino effect of change began.
“Willowbrook was designed for about 200 patients. It ended up with far more than that, and those conditions were impossible for the people who lived there. We know now that those mass institutions can never really serve the interests of people who have intellectual disabilities,” described Professor of History at the College of Staten Island Catherine Lavender.
After the documentary was shown at the Hart theater, a panel consisting of key players and advocates answered questions from the audience. Included as a moderator of the panel was NEWS10’s own Christina Arangio. Advocates describe life today as dramatically better for those with developmental disabilities. They continue to argue that there is still much work to do in the fight for equality, including promoting inclusion in education and the workplace.
“If you want to move forward in disability advocacy, you have to be more accepting. We are aware of autism, down syndrome, etc. Now you have to accept it,” stated attendee Andrew Maggio.