Thirty-five years ago, on this day, the Willowbrook State School was shuttered, signaling a new day for people with developmental disabilities. It was the courageous reporting of Geraldo Rivera, aided by a brave young named Bernard Carabello, that led to its closure by exposing the failure of a system that relied heavily on mass institutionalization of people with disabilities. Mr. Rivera’s expose 50 years ago launched a multi-year effort to change the service delivery system, leading ultimately to the closure of 20 institutions across New York State over 30 years in favor of community living.
The history and the mission of the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities is irrevocably intertwined with the history of the Willowbrook State School. This agency was born out of the strong and heroic advocacy of family members and people with developmental disabilities to ensure better treatment and better services for people within their communities and ultimately led to the end of institutionalization.