Disabled Picket Guild Hall

October 23, 1997

As ticket holders waited to enter Guild Hall Saturday to attend one of the biggest events of the four-day Hamptons International Film Festival, a small contingent of protesters picketed the cultural center. They were demanding better access for the disabled.

The protest was organized by the East End Disabilities Group and timed to coincide with the festival's tribute to the actress and director Lee Grant.

Over the past four years, the group has staged public protests, spoken before the Town Board, and conducted letter-writing campaigns to pressure local governments, businesses, and institutions to comply with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.

During last year's Film Festival, Disabilities Group members protested in front of Nick and Toni's restaurant in East Hampton and in front of the East Hampton Cinema because, they said, restaurants owned in part by Toni Ross, the festival's chairwoman, had not met the requirements of A.D.A.

The group has become known for using larger public events, the Film Festival in particular, as a way of drawing attention to its cause.

The tribute to Lee Grant was nothe only festival happening at Guild Hall, but was chosen, according to the group's president, Glen Hall, because it was certain to draw a large crowd and media coverage.

In letters to the editor of The Star last week and in a petition and handouts distributed at the protest, the group argued that Guild Hall has not provided space in the John Drew Theater for those in wheelchairs, that the bathrooms are not sufficiently accessible to the wheelchair bound, that handicapped parking is inadequate, and that the assistive listening device for the hearing impaired doesn't work.

In all it lists 30 ways in which Guild Hall violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was established to insure equal access and equal rights for those with disabilities.

Over the past year, representatives of the group have met with Guild Hall's president, Henry Korn, and its board of directors about rectifying some of the problems at the cultural center. In a letter to The Star last week, the town's disabilities officer, Richard Rosenthal, called the work that had been done "slipshod" and asked Guild Hall to offer at least a reasonable deadline for when it will be done properly.

Unisex Bathroom

Mr. Korn claims Guild Hall has done a great deal to accommodate the disabled since Mr. Hall and Gerry Mooney, the group's secretary, spoke at a board of trustees meeting in the spring.

An October memo from Guild Hall's architect, Jon F. Edelbaum of Amagansett, offers some elaboration. Mr. Edelbaum wrote that a concrete ramp had been constructed from the handicapped parking space in front of the building to the sidewalk and that another ramp was put in at the entry to Guild Hall, though more work is still required there.

Defective assistive listening equipment was replaced, and, as for the bathrooms, Mr. Edelbaum wrote, "The toilets have been made as fully accessible as the current space limitations and construction requirements will allow." He has recommended, instead, that Guild Hall build a unisex handicapped-only bathroom.

Town Funds To Wait

According to the memo, there are plans to create two zones of removable seating, producing six wheelchair-accessible locations, to build a ramp for the exit door at the west side of the theater, and to install an alarm system with visual as well as audio signals.

This spring, Robert Wechsler, a member of Guild Hall's board of trustees, pledged $25,000 to help the cultural center move ahead with these plans, which the center expects to be completed no later than the spring.

The East Hampton Town Board provided some additional incentive.

The Town Board allocated $15,000 in its tentative 1998 operating budget for Guild Hall, but, as per Mr. Hall's request, agreed Friday not to release these funds until the institution is deemed accessible.