A special lecture is taking place this today (05/05/2015), called ‘Curtains Up! Inclusive Research for Social Justice’. It is the inaugural lecture which has been funded by a TV personality in the USA, Geraldo Rivera, and is being given by Dr. Val Williams from Norah Fry Research Centre, School for Policy Studies, with Beth Richards from the Misfits Theatre Group, and Vicky Mason who is a PhD student at Norah Fry. Our link with Staten Island is through former colleague Barbra Teater, who is now living and working in New York, running the social work programme at the College of Staten Island, part of the City University of New York.
The lecture commemorates a notorious institution called Willowbrook State School, which housed literally thousands of children and young people with learning disabilities from around 1948 until its closure in 1987. Known as the last great disgrace in US disability services, Willowbrook was the subject of a TV expose by a (then young) Rivera in 1972. With his camera crew, he broke into the wards, revealing the filthy and animal-like conditions in which children were being kept. It makes for horrific viewing.
Since then, of course, much has changed. Val, Beth and Vicky will talk today about the exciting and important things achieved by people with learning disabilities, including Beth herself. The focus is on drama but also on inclusive research, and how important it is for people with learning disabilities to have their voices heard – something that is explored in the programme MSc Disability Studies: Inclusive Theory and Research hosted at the School for Policy Studies.