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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. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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