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20 years of rights under the ADA

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While many people might take it for granted that accessibility for all people is now commonplace and that it is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on a disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed only 20 years ago.

It wasn’t until 1992 that the first provisions went into effect regarding the accessibility requirements. Employment provisions didn’t go into effect until 1994.

One Indianapolis attorney who was at the 1990 signing of the ADA, Greg Fehribach, was at the White House with his family last month when President Barack Obama and those involved with the original bill commemorated the 20th anniversary.

Fehribach was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or “brittle bone disease,” and has been in a wheelchair most of his life. He works as a consultant regarding ADA issues on a number of high-profile projects in central Indiana.

ada Indianapolis attorney Greg Fehribach and his wife, Mary Beth, recently visited the White House to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He was among those in attendance when it was originally signed into law. (Submitted photo)

While in Washington, D.C., Fehr-ibach said he had an enjoyable time overall, including a personal conversation with the president when he was at the White House July 26 with his wife, Mary Beth Fehribach. He also said the White House was much more accessible this time than 20 years ago.

But the invitation has given him pause to think about the changes of the last 20 years, he said, particularly its impact on people with disabilities like himself.

Looking back, Fehribach said that even when he swore to uphold the rights of the Indiana and U.S. constitutions as a new lawyer in 1986, he himself could still be legally discriminated against because of his disability.

Before the ADA, businesses didn’t need to worry about accessibility or employment of people who had disabilities. So at the time the bill was signed, he said there seemed to be fear among businesses about possible litigation for non-compliance and about how much it would cost to become compliant with accessibility for customers and employees.

But many attitudes about the ADA have since changed, he said.

Business owners realized they may have been effectively excluding many people as customers and employees, he said, and since the ADA they have made more efforts to include everyone.

The act may even be more relevant today than 20 years ago because of the changing population: Baby boomers who were in their 40s at the signing of the ADA are now in their 60s and are more likely to have developed an ailment that could be considered a disability; there is an increasing number of disabled war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; and more people tend to survive various ailments because of improvements in medicine, but they may need improved access as a result.

Even after 20 years, Fehribach still has an occasional experience that reminds him more can be done. For instance, when he first arrived in Baltimore, he and his wife were stranded because a shuttle with a lift he’d reserved to take him to his hotel had accepted another fare to Washington, D.C. They had to wait for an hour for another van with a lift.

He was also unable to take a water taxi in Baltimore because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. In Washington, D.C., he encountered two separate buses that had issues with their wheelchair lifts, delaying him from reaching his destination.

But it’s these types of situations that have helped him as a consultant since the passage of the ADA for high-profile projects in Indianapolis, including The Children’s Museum, Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Indiana Convention Center. As a lawyer, he understands the legal implications of what he does and what his clients need to do to meet the standards.

For The Children’s Museum, his involvement started with work on the Dinosphere exhibit more than five years ago. That exhibit includes a “vertical dig” he helped design. It’s a place targeted to children in wheelchairs to dig into a wall to find artifacts because they can’t dig at ground level.

He also helped design an accessible tuk-tuk for the “Take me there: Egypt” exhibit. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled enclosed motorcycle-like vehicle that isn’t wheelchair accessible. Fehribach suggested the museum have one cut in half so a child in a wheelchair could slide in.

“The Children’s Museum takes a holistic look at accessibility,” Fehribach said. “It’s not just a place for recreation but also for learning. People are integrated there on all levels,” including families, friends, classmates, and neighbors, he said.

He also worked with the museum on its “Power of Children: Making a Difference” exhibit that includes the stories of children who handled discrimination and racism and “Treasures of the Earth,” a future exhibit that focuses on archeology.

“Over the years, Greg has really become the museum expert,” said Jennifer Pace Robinson, director of exhibit development at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

“… He has always felt like another exhibit team member, not like an outside consultant,” she said via e-mail. “… He reviews all of our ideas and then suggests ways to create experiences that are accessible to many different audiences, including the very young, grandparents, and adults/children with disabilities. He is really still like a kid; he thinks about what kids want to do and helps us see how we can meet our goals without excluding any child.”

“To see the looks on children’s faces, knowing that everyone can stand in line together. … They can learn how to work, how to play, and how to participate together,” Fehribach said.

He has worked with John Klipsch, executive director of the Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority, on the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. Prior to his work with the ISCBA, they worked together on Conseco Fieldhouse and the Indiana State Museum.

“Greg … understands the important issues that are not always clear or laid out in the ADA law, and he’s able to address those in a sensible manner,” he said.

As far as the importance of accessibility in sports facilities since the passage of the ADA, Klipsch said, “it’s important to have parity among all the seating arrangements, and that’s been a process that’s evolved as the sophistication of the customers has evolved. They understand that disabled customers need a choice in price level for seating, and Greg has helped us develop great options.”

Bill Browne, founding principal of Ratio Architects, also has worked with Fehribach on various projects, including the convention center and the Indiana State Museum, among others.

“The thing I really admire about Greg is it’s great to have someone so open about his disability. … He says, ‘This is who I am, and I have a perspective to bring to projects.’ … And he’s schooled as an attorney in this area in a strong way, which gives us great comfort.”

He added, “Greg always thinks about not only how you can meet the minimum but also what should be the right answer? … He has brought to me and others in the firm an appreciation of what it means to do more than just the minimum. Let’s do what’s right for the building and the community.”

Jim Schellinger, chairman and chief executive officer of CSO Architects, echoed others about Fehribach’s work. The two have worked together for about 20 years on various projects including the new Indianapolis Airport, Ball State University’s Music Instruction Building, the JW Marriott Complex in Indianapolis, Archdiocese of Indianapolis projects, and the Columbus high schools.

While the passage of the ADA “initially created great anxiety based on unknowns,” he said via e-mail, “… thanks to Greg’s consulting work, knowledge, and skills we have become fully adapted to ADA and are proud that all CSO projects are universally accessible.”

“Our clients hold Greg in high regard and really appreciate his focus and flexibility. They know he is focused on doing the right thing and guides them in this direction at all times,” he said.

Fehribach also is working with Ball State students with the school’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs. He teaches “The Disability Culture: Enhancing Today’s Economy.” The course focuses on “the challenges and opportunities facing both Americans with disabilities and employers in fulfilling the promise of legislation aimed at providing equal opportunities for persons with disabilities in the workforce.”

Going forward, Fehribach said when attorneys have clients with any kind of fear when it comes to the ADA, he hopes attorneys will take the time to remind their clients why it’s important to include those with disabilities.

“While I said 20 years ago that it was cheaper to make changes than to have litigation, now I would say that it is more economically prudent to invite people with disabilities into your business for economic reasons. That includes customers who have children, aging parents, or spouses with disabilities,” he said.•

Indiana Lawyer interviewed Fehribach in 1990 after the signing of the ADA. Click here to read the online version of that story. 

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  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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