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New York launches a new anti-stigma campaign for people with developmental disabilities

 Beyond Willowbrook exhibit at Empire State Plaza's South Concourse which details the neglect residents at the Staten Island facility faced
Samantha Simmons
Beyond Willowbrook exhibit at Empire State Plaza's South Concourse which details the neglect residents at the Staten Island facility faced

Two New York state bodies are joining forces to advocate for people with developmental disabilities.

The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council unveiled Look Beyond my Developmental Disability, a new anti-stigma campaign, on Wednesday in Albany.

It has been 33 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, was signed into law by President George Bush.

OPWDD Commissioner Kerri Neifeld says the campaign encourages people to think before passing judgement.

“Ask ourselves that question,” Neifeld said. “Just a very simple question of ‘Where in my life can I do better right to recognize the person for who they are, as opposed to seeing what we see on the outside?’ Which maybe is an indication of a disability of some kind to be thinking about who is that person underneath, what I'm seeing, right, and to begin to ask themselves that question, and to share widely with their friends or their family on social media so that we can all be thinking about people more about who they are as a person and less about what we see on the outside.”

Kim Hill Ridley, the state’s first Chief Disability Officer, says advocacy never stops.

“I think that we need to make a lot of strides continuing on the work that we're doing in employment, trying to deal with the workforce crisis, making sure that there is more accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities,” Hill Ridley said. “Once we cover those problems, dealing with transportation, again, emergency preparedness, a huge one that that that can't wait because we don't know when emergencies are going to come up.”

The multimedia campaign, which was spurred by legislation signed by Governor Kathy Hochul last year to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities, is on display in the Empire State Plaza’s South Concourse through Labor Day and online.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a fellow Democrat from the 113th District, sponsored the legislation and says everyone should practice self-awareness.

“I think it's such an important step that we that we really come to terms with the fact that there exists stigma in our society, that that influences how people interact with members of our community who have intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Woerner said.

The campaign is supported by Beyond Willowbrook, a special exhibition detailing neglect at the state facility in Staten Island from 1947 to 1987.

Vicky Hiffa is the Acting Executive Director for the New York State Developmental Disabilities Council. Hiffa says the film, The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook, created by the state’s Digital and Media Services Center, was a gamechanger in disability rights when released last year.

“We have made a lot of progress over the last 50 years for people with disabilities, so we wanted to celebrate that, celebrate inclusion for people with disabilities but also recognize that we still have a ways to go,” Hiffa said. “People with disabilities still are not fully included in the community of their choosing.”

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.