The Willowbrook State School is an important part of the history of disabilities in the United States and is regarded by some as the “ground zero” of the disabilities civil rights movement. This informative text describes in great detail what life was like for the people who lived and worked at Willowbrook and how and why the institution evolved as it did. The focus is primarily on the period before Geraldo Rivera’s sensational television exposé in 1972.
A History and Sociology of the Willowbrook State School explores a general history of disabilities and institutions and increasingly concentrates on the “medicalization” of disability, which was the impetus for the creation of large-scale institutions. The early history of institutions in New York State, New York City, and Staten Island is adroitly presented as a backdrop that allows the authors to showcase the particulars of Willowbrook itself.
Beyond historical context, the reader is introduced to the sociology of institutions. Through the use of poignant first-hand observations and testimonials on life at Willowbrook, the authors provide readers a better understanding of the seemingly counterintuitive interpersonal dynamics and interactions that are part and parcel of life and work in institutional settings.
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