OPWDD Unveils Statewide Multi-Media Campaign “Look Beyond My Developmental Disability” and “The Path Forward: Beyond Willowbrook” Exhibit in Partnership with the DDPC
The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) today announced a new, statewide campaign called “Look Beyond My Developmental Disability” to combat the stigma that people with developmental disabilities face in their daily lives. The campaign was unveiled by OPWDD and New York’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC) to coincide with the anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act on July 26th.
The “Look Beyond My Developmental Disability” anti-stigma campaign was spurred by legislation Governor Hochul signed in 2022 directing OPWDD to develop and implement a public awareness campaign that combats discrimination, stigma and stereotyping of people with developmental disabilities. The law took effect in September 2022.
Today’s event included the launch of an updated exhibit that features a timeline of key historical events that affected New Yorkers with developmental disabilities. The exhibit also features the DDPC produced half-hour documentary The Path Forward: Remembering Willowbrook which highlights the impacts of government inefficiencies, the reforms that resulted, and the legacy of Willowbrook State School. The exhibit will be displayed in the Empire State Plaza’s South Concourse throughout Labor Day.
"In New York, we take incredible pride in protecting and advancing the rights of all New Yorkers, including those with developmental disabilities,” said Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado. “I am proud to be part of an administration that is taking critical steps to highlight and celebrate the tremendous contributions of the developmental disability community all across our great state. We will continue to ensure they are empowered and supported."
“OPWDD does so much more than provide support for people with developmental disabilities. OPWDD is proud to promote and draw attention to the many New Yorkers with developmental disabilities from across our state that we are fortunate to interact with and advocate alongside daily,” said Kerri E. Neifeld, Commissioner of the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. “Part of our advocacy continues to be educating the public about developmental disabilities and to help people learn more about their peers, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow community members with developmental disabilities. We are excited to launch this important campaign and challenge people throughout our state to ‘Look Beyond’ someone’s developmental disability and see the person for all that they are.”
NYS Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said, “The stigma and negative stereotypes against people with developmental disabilities or mental illness leads to discrimination in housing, education, employment and other opportunities. Stigma can also decrease a person’s self-esteem, discourage them from seeking help and negatively impact their relationships. OMH has long worked to reduce the stigma around mental illness, and we are pleased to support OPWDD in their efforts to address the stigma that hurts people with developmental disabilities.”
“My team and I are proud to be participating in the development of the “Look Beyond” public service campaign that is aimed at removing stigmas attached to people with developmental disabilities because part of our office’s mission is to ensure integration, inclusion and accessibility for every New Yorker, regardless of the type of disability they have,” said Kim Hill Ridley, Chief Disability Officer for New York State. “Helping to remove the harmful and inaccurate stigmas that are attached to those with developmental disabilities is absolutely necessary to achieve our goal and reduce the discrimination people face because of these negative stereotypes.”
The “Look Beyond” anti-stigma public awareness campaign uses public and online forums, social and mass media, and radio and print advertising to educate the public about developmental disabilities, and highlight the positive contributions of people with developmental disabilities to their state and their communities. Through rich, diverse imagery and graphics, stories include compelling messaging that reflects the universal need to learn, grow, and be interconnected.
Many people with developmental disabilities still experience pre-conceived stereotyping and discrimination in various aspects of life, including access to housing, employment, and medical care, which can lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes as well as social exclusion and isolation. The campaign seeks to raise awareness so that people with developmental disabilities can be freed from the stigmas. OPWDD worked with key stakeholders, including the New York State Office of the Chief Disability Officer, the New York State Office of Mental Health, Autism Spectrum Disorders Advisory Board, the Self Advocacy Association of New York State, the New York Association on Independent Living, the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, OPWDD’s Statewide Family Support Services Committee, the Chinese Planning Council and the service provider Sinergia to ensure diverse representation.
At the core of the DDPC’s mission is the recognition that disability is a natural part of the diverse human experience, which should be acknowledged, respected and celebrated,” said Vicky Hiffa, Acting Executive Director of the NYS DDPC. “In order to move forward to eliminate stigmas about people with disabilities, it is important that we educate about the roots of advocacy and disability rights and talk about the lessons of Willowbrook so history is not repeated.”
Senator John W. Mannion said, "This multi-media awareness campaign promotes inclusivity and will help inspire New Yorkers to reject the stigmatization of our friends and loved ones with an intellectual or developmental disability. As Senate bill sponsor, my goal is to educate the public, break down barriers, and celebrate the unique talents and contributions of all New Yorkers."
“I am proud to have passed a law that helps promote the acceptance of New Yorkers with disabilities and that supports a public awareness campaign that highlights their many contributions to our great state,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. “Given the fact that 1 in 6 children in the U.S. has one or more intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder or Cerebral Palsy, implementing educational programming is key to reducing stigmas, empowering people and enhancing community inclusivity.”
Courtney Burke, Chair of the NYS Autism Spectrum Disorders Advisory Board said, “It is incredibly important to see the Governor's leadership in promoting awareness and reducing stigma about people with developmental disabilities. Opening people's minds about the abilities of people with disabilities has been a major priority of the Autism Spectrum Advisory Board, and we are thrilled to see her support through this new initiative.”
“New York is the state of opportunity,” said Josh Mirsky of Long Island, a member of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Advisory Board who participated in the focus group. “For too long, people with disabilities have not had the same opportunities in society as people without disabilities due in part to societal stigma. Stigmas unjustly hold people back, and it takes true leadership to combat this. As a member of the focus group and the Autism Spectrum Disorders Advisory Board, I applaud Governor Hochul for her leadership and her action to address stigma.”