History of EEDG
The EEDG was formed in 1994 to advocate for the rights of the disabled on the East End of Long Island. Our primary goal is to work for the full implementation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This Act which was passed by Congress and signed into law by George Herbert Bush in 1991 was the greatest civil rights legislation since the civil rights act of 1964. We in the EEDG are standing on the shoulders of those who worked to get this legislation passed. Of all the people who fought for the ADA there are thousands who we will never hear about, who over centuries, just by living day to day with their disability touched the hearts of many around them. For years people tried to hide their disabilities believing that people would not think of them as whole, strong human beings. That kind of thinking has been turned on its head and we realize that many of the disabled people we know are also the strongest.
In 1992 the American with Disabilities Act came into effect and one of the requirements of it for municipalities was “citizen participation” in the implementation of it. The Town of East Hampton had previously had a Handicapped Advisory Board but in 1993 it was changed to The Disabilities Advisory Board and a number of new members were invited to join. The board was tasked with advising the Town on implementation of ADA and representing the disabled in the community. In reviewing the requirements of ADA and looking over the Town and Village of East Hampton it quickly became apparent that most of the town both public and commercial was not in compliance. A striking example was the United Artist Movie Theater in the heart of East Hampton. There were no spaces provided for wheelchairs in the theaters, the bathrooms, snack counter, the phones all were not accessible and there was no assistive listening system. The Advisory Board first asked Town and Village officials how the movie theater could be brought into compliance. It turned out that local government could not inforce the ADA because it was Federal law and local governments have no jurisdiction. So Board members made personal pleas to the local theater asking that it be made accessible to the disabled in compliance with ADA. The local management said they had no power to do such renovations and referred inquiries to United Artist corporate Headquarters in Colorado. A number of letters and phone calls later and many months passing made it clear that United Artist Inc. had no interest in complying with ADA and we were basically told to go away.
It became obvious that another approach was going to be required unless we wanted to go to Federal Court and sue which would take many years. Some of the new members of the Advisory Board had previous experience fighting for the rights of minorities against the “Powers that Be” during the Civil Rights days of the 60’s. They suggested if we couldn’t get UA to comply using local government and asking nicely that maybe there was another way. So a number of members of the Advisory Board got together and formed a not for profit corporation, a 501c3, the East End Disabilities Group Inc.
The East End Disabilities Group first again polity asked UA to comply with the ADA . When we were again rebuffed in late spring of 1994 EEDG went to the Village of East Hampton and applied for and got the first permit ever issued in the Village of East Hampton to demonstrate and picket on the sidewalks in East Hampton. The weekend before Memorial Day EEDG supporters, with signs and petitions in wheelchairs and on crutches, family and friends, demonstrated in front of the theater calling for a boycott starting on the following Memorial Day weekend. Not surprisingly we got a great deal of local and regional press coverage.
United Artists Theater Corp. started renovations on Tuesday, work was sufficiently completed by Thursday, and the boycott was called off as a result.
Subsequently United Artists started making the necessary ADA renovations in the Southampton Theater and then the rest of their theaters in the US came into compliance.