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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. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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