Oral History Project

For more than a decade, the UB Center for Disability Studies has conducted an oral history project that began with former residents of the West Seneca Developmental Center located near Buffalo, New York. The project has expanded to include a wide range of people with disabilities living in western New York.

A historical black and white photo of four white- and male-presenting residents eating together at a small square table while a male staff member looks on. Black marker covers the eyes of residents whose faces are visible to maintain privacy.
A historical black and white photo depicts a young white- and female-presenting resident about to release a bowling bowl onto the lane while a female staff member assists her. Black marker covers the resident’s eyes to maintain her privacy.

“West Seneca Developmental Center opened in October 1962 for the stated purposes of relieving overcrowded conditions in other state facilities and for serving Western New York State. In 1974, the name was changed from West Seneca State School to West Seneca Developmental Center to reflect a change in philosophy and mission. West Seneca Developmental Center occupied 19 residential buildings, 2 program buildings, and 13 support buildings spread over 439 acres. When it opened, parents in Western New York whose children were in institutions far from home welcomed the new center. West Seneca Developmental Center started with 30 residents, and reached its largest population in 1971 with 1,710 individuals. After this point, the population slowly declined as residents moved into the community.” -- Kathryn Lawton, PhD candidate, Department of History, research assistant UBCDS.

The Center for Disability Studies is interested in recording and archiving the experiences of people with disabilities living in the community, especially those people who made the transition from a large congregate care facility like West Seneca to smaller residential settings. We provide people with disabilities with a space to talk about life in the large institution, as well as their experiences forging relationships in the community and navigating their daily lives.

With our interview subjects' consent, and their active involvement, we are working to bring the history and lived experiences of people with disabilities in western New York to the larger public.