Port Authority Exhibit Shares Bitter History Of Former School For Disabled Children
It has been 45 years since an exposé led to public outcry about the abysmal conditions at the former Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, and now an exhibit on the former school for developmentally disabled children is on display in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
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Bernard Carabello was just three years old when he first entered the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. He was 21 years old when he finally left what he recalls as the worst place on earth.
"I used to get beaten almost every other day," Carabello remembered.
Designed for 4,000 children, the state-supported institution was overcrowded and understaffed. Twenty five years ago this month, the facility was closed for good.
Now, Willowbrook's 45-year history is on display in an exhibit at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Hell's Kitchen.
"Remembering Willowbrook" tells of the horrific conditions children there were forced to endure. They were used for medical testing, lived in filth, suffered physical and sexual abuse and were malnourished.
The school was eventually closed after a series of newspaper and television reports exposed the horrors and Willowbrook parents brought a class action lawsuit against the state.
"The goal of the exhibit is to raise awareness on the part of the public about the conditions at Willowbrook and the importance of including people with disabilities in the community," said Courtney Burke of the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities.
Willowbrook's closure in 1987 drastically changed the way developmentally disabled people were treated and led to federal civil rights legislation to protect them.
Henry Kennedy's daughter is developmentally disabled and says Willowbrook changed her life.
"Today is a much, much different place. Julie lives in her own home, for instance, rather than in an institution. So that, in and of itself, just speaks volumes about just how far we've come," said Kennedy.
The exhibit will be on display at the Port Authority through the end of September. It will eventually make its home at the College of Staten Island, where plans for a walking tour of the former state school grounds are in the works.
"I think we need to remember the old saying, 'You'll have to repeat history if you forget it,'" said Diane Buglioli of A Very Special Place.
That tour will be called the Willowbrook Mile, and it should be up and running by the end of the year.