ECI was the first non-profit Center for Independent Living (CIL) in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The original federal grant was awarded in November 1980 to Handicaps Unlimited of Virginia (HUVA) and the Center opened in February 1981 at the Tidewater Rehabilitation Institute building in Norfolk. In 1983, the Center was incorporated and received 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service as a separate non-profit organization with 51% of its board of directors comprised of individuals with disabilities. In 1984, the Center moved to downtown Norfolk on Plume Street, where it also operated satellite offices in the cities of Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and in Newport News. In 1988, the Newport News satellite received funding from the Virginia General Assembly to establish as a separate community based non-profit CIL. In 1989, ECI moved to the Janaf Office Building providing a more central location to the service area and in 2004, ECI moved to its present location.
ECI is funded through federal, state and local governments, as well as through grants, private donations and contract services to the public and private sector. ECI is part of a network of 17 non-profit CILs in Virginia and a network of almost 400 CILs nationwide.