A poster for The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook, now showing that the documentary has been selected for the Montauk Film Festival

The Path Forward

How Willowbrook continues to inspire our work toward community inclusion.
New Documentary Available Now!
The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook

The DDPC, in partnership with the New York State Digital and Media Services Center, has produced a documentary highlighting the importance of lessons learned, positive change that resulted, and the legacy of Willowbrook. The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook is a celebration of inclusion in all aspects of community life.

Disclaimer: Some footage used in the video contains images that may be disturbing for some viewers. The piece also uses older video clips that include outdated language referring to people with developmental disabilities; these clips are used solely for historical context.


Aprenda sobre Willowbrook, el acontecimiento nacional que cambio el mundo del trato de las personas con discapacidades.




The Story Behind the Story

In 1972, Geraldo Rivera produced an exposé on the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, shocking the nation and forever changing the treatment of people with disabilities in the state and across the country. The investigation also produced a lifelong bond between he and Bernard Carabello, a former Willowbrook resident who went on to become the founder of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS).

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of this landmark moment, the DDPC is highlighting the importance of the lessons learned, the positive change that resulted, and how to move forward from the legacy of Willowbrook.

"It is important we never forget the atrocities that happened at Willowbrook so we can make sure this horrible chapter of history is never repeated." - Vicky Hiffa, DDPC Acting Executive Director


Last year, the DDPC was able to attend the opening of The Willowbrook Mile by The City College of Staten Island. The college has worked to make the history of Willowbrook into an accessible trail open for the public to walk the campus and immerse themselves in the history. Learn more about The Willowbrook Mile here

Premiere Screening at the Egg

On March 23rd 2023, the DDPC hosted a debut screening of the documentary The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with key gamechangers who lived the Willowbrook story.

Panelists include:

  • Bernard Carabello, Founder of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York (SANYS); former Willowbrook resident
  • Dr. Michael Wilkins, Former Willowbrook Physician and Whistle-blower
  • Dr. Catherine Lavender, Co-Chair of the Willowbrook Legacy Committee
  • Diane Buglioli, Former Willowbrook Staff; Co-founder of A Very Special Place
  • Dr Debra Weissbach, Sister of a former Willowbrook resident; Pediatrician
  • Jose Rivera, Brother of a former Willowbrook resident; Community Advocate
  • Willie Mae Goodman, Parent of former Willowbrook resident; founder of the Gouverneur Parents Association

In the News

It was an extraordinarily compelling story back then. It remains a compelling story. Thank you….for putting together a documentary that makes us think, makes us feel, and hopefully puts us on a path in the right direction.” 

Jack Ford, Metro Focus host, and former Today Show host, Good Morning America and 20/20 correspondent.


Spectrum News: What's next for the landmark American Disabilities Act

MetroFocus | MetroFocus: May 25, 2023 | Season 2023 | PBS

"The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook" screening in Albany this week (news10.com)

Willowbrook documentary plays at The Egg (news10.com)

'A disgrace': Former Willowbrook residents, family recall horrors (timesunion.com)




Watch Now The Path Forward: Willowbrook in Conversation

Dr. Michael Wilkins, a physician who worked at Willowbrook and a key whistleblower on its conditions and practices, talks about how he met Bernard Carabello, the challenges they faced together, and the special bond they share.

Video Playlist: The Impact of Willowbrook

Key players in the Willowbrook exposé and other community leaders look back on the progress made and the work to be done.
An original key from Willowbrook School mounted on wood plaque
Landmark Policy Since Willowbrook
The Exposé That Started It All

Watch the full 1972 piece on Willowbrook, “The Last Great Disgrace,” on Geraldo Rivera’s website.

The Closing of Willowbrook

Read a timeline of the Willowbrook legal case and the legislation that followed on the Disability Justice website.

Timeline of Landmark Legislation since Willowbrook