ILNews

Lawyer sees Super Bowl as moment to showcase inclusiveness

Jenny Montgomery
February 1, 2012
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Attorney Greg Fehribach is looking forward to Super Bowl XLVI, when thousands of visitors to Indianapolis will make their way through downtown, thanks in part to infrastructure he helped design. For Fehribach, who uses a wheelchair as a mobility aid, the hallmark of any great city is its ability to offer everyone the same experiences.

A different world

When Fehribach was a child growing up in the Circle City – before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – getting from point A to point B required a bit more planning.
 

Fehribach03-15col.jpg (From L to R) Mary Beth and Greg Fehribach, Juli Paini and Jennifer Mendoza look forward to an accessible Super Bowl where curb cuts, like the one shown below, will allow visitors to move freely throughout Indianapolis. (IL Photos/ Perry Reichanadter)
street-ramp03-15col.jpg

“There was no accessibility – actually you didn’t even have to be accessible in the United States until 1990. In the ’70s, education required more accessible features, but cities and towns didn’t have to have curb cuts or anything to that effect,” he said.

Reflecting on his decision to become a lawyer, Fehribach smiled and said that because his mother emphati-

cally told him he could not become a ditch digger, he had to come up with a different plan. And he said law seemed like a good career for a person with a disability.

“Plus, law is still one of the only professions in the world where you can actually change the world with a pen and paper, and that had an awful lot of interest to me,” he said.

So Fehribach became a lawyer, sworn in to practice four years before “ADA compliance” had become part of the American vocabulary. He continues to serve as of counsel for Doninger Tuohy & Bailey, and he leads his own consulting firm, The Fehribach Group. In that role, he has helped engineers, project managers and architects shape the kind of all-inclusive environments that didn’t exist when he was a child – among them, Lucas Oil Stadium.

Before Lucas Oil Stadium was built, the Indianapolis Colts played at the RCA Dome. Built before the days of ADA, the RCA Dome’s accessible seating was cordoned off from other seating, and visitors had to enter through a separate door to reach it. Lucas Oil Stadium was designed so that all of its entryways are wheelchair-friendly, and its accessible seating is found throughout the venue, allowing people who use mobility aids to be part of the crowd.

It’s not just the buildings and sidewalks that have changed over time; societal attitudes have changed, too.

Fehribach said in the past, the question on most business owners’ minds was: What do we have to do to be ADA-compliant? But now, savvy business owners ask, “How can we do more?” Because they understand that people with disabilities have money to spend.

The economics of inclusion

Sitting at a table with his wife and business manager Mary Beth Fehribach; his administrative and communications coordinator Jennifer Mendoza; and Juli Paini, attorney and director of the Office of Disability Affairs for the City of Indianapolis; Greg Fehribach explained that years ago, the public perception of people with disabilities was that they needed help.

“Typically, from a social service perspective, you look at a health care model or a health care philosophy with people with disabilities – they were sick, and so how do you care for sick people?” he said. “Now, it’s more of an economic model, meaning people with disabilities – Juli and I are two of them – we’d like to buy a cup of coffee, or we’d like to buy a ticket to a ballgame or to a show or an event. It’s not so much: Do we have to let them in? It’s: Of course we want them in; we want to get into their pockets!”

Fehribach said lawyers can help shift the focus for their business clients away from being so worried about costs that they fail to see the benefits people with disabilities can offer as members of the workforce and as consumers.

A study by disability advocacy group Open Doors Organization estimated in 2003 that people with disabilities would spend $35 billion dining at restaurants that year. And the study found that more than 75 percent of people with disabilities eat at restaurants at least once a week.

Defining good design

On an icy, blustery day, Paini wraps her hands around her Starbucks cup as she ponders what factors constitute an accessible environment.

“You know that you’ve created a universally accessible space or program when people don’t notice,” she said. “For me, with my particular disability, to walk down a street that’s accessible, my disability really doesn’t come into play. It’s when you have those barriers and you have to address them that disability comes into play, and so a universally accessible environment – which we’ve created here in Indianapolis – everyone’s going to be able to enjoy.”

Paini, the Fehribachs and Mendoza are all members of the ADA Disability Inclusion Subcommittee of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. Other members include Larry Markle, director of disabled student development for Ball State University; Carlos Taylor, director of adaptive technology for Ball State University; and Peter Bisbecos, an attorney who was the first official to oversee ADA compliance in Indianapolis in a role that later developed into the one Paini fulfills now.

In 1992, Bisbecos’ first task was ensuring city buses were accessible. Of the many gains Indianapolis has made over the years in allowing all people to share in the same experiences, Bisbecos seems most impressed with the design of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home court for the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever.

“If you look at the fieldhouse, if you look at the decks between the levels, that’s the best accessible seating in the country,” he said. “Because there is no fixed seating there, a person can interact more with a person who comes with them. Accessible seating used to be so limited that only a few people could go.”

Bisbecos said that another benefit the mezzanine-level seating offers is that when fans closer to the court leap to their feet in excitement, they aren’t blocking the view of people sitting in the middle level.

“That was Greg’s idea,” Bisbecos said. “He may say it was somebody else’s idea, but I think it was his.”

Bisbecos said he’s excited that so many people around the world will turn their focus to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.

“Indianapolis has got a lot to be proud of,” he said.

Learning opportunities

In his blog, Greg Fehribach wrote about a recent experience where he was part of a group that was receiving an honor, and when honorees were called to the stage – due to the tight clearance between tables – he wasn’t able to join his colleagues. Even if he had been able to maneuver through the narrow aisles, he could not have accessed the elevated stage.

While some people may interpret that event as unfortunate and disappointing, Fehribach sees it as a way to bring people closer together.

“Education is a fascinating trade, and often times when you’re a learner, you can read a textbook, but the learner doesn’t always grasp it until they actually see the issue being negative or positive in motion, so there’s suddenly an ‘a-ha’ moment when a learner and educator have that opportunity to share mutual experiences,” he said. “I think the Super Bowl is that mutual experience for Indianapolis at this time. Sport has always been that bridging of social, economic and other factors because we all cheer for the same things or for the same team – or half cheer for one, and half cheer for the other – and that cheering for a common cause is what breaks down barriers.”

More work to be done

Fehribach takes pride in the many projects the city has completed in order to be more accommodating of its residents. And in 2009, the National Organization on Disability named Indianapolis the most disability-friendly city in the United States. But Fehribach is quick to point out that the progress he’s seen so far is just the beginning.

“It’s fun to watch the project and the space mature because then that allows more people to use the space, the facility or the program more inclusively every single day,” he said. “So when you open up a project, when you begin a project, you don’t go for the expectation of this is the end. It’s only the beginning.”•

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  1. No second amendment, pro life, pro traditional marriage, reagan or trump tshirts will be sold either. And you cannot draw Mohammed even in your own notebook. And you must wear a helmet at all times while at the fair. And no lawyer jokes can be told except in the designated protest area. And next year no crucifixes, since they are uber offensive to all but Catholics. Have a nice bland day here in the Lego movie. Remember ... Everything is awesome comrades.

  2. Thank you for this post . I just bought a LG External DVD It came with Cyber pwr 2 go . It would not play on Lenovo Idea pad w/8.1 . Your recommended free VLC worked great .

  3. All these sites putting up all the crap they do making Brent Look like A Monster like he's not a good person . First off th fight actually started not because of Brent but because of one of his friends then when the fight popped off his friend ran like a coward which left Brent to fend for himself .It IS NOT a crime to defend yourself 3 of them and 1 of him . just so happened he was a better fighter. I'm Brent s wife so I know him personally and up close . He's a very caring kind loving man . He's not abusive in any way . He is a loving father and really shouldn't be where he is not for self defense . Now because of one of his stupid friends trying to show off and turning out to be nothing but a coward and leaving Brent to be jumped by 3 men not only is Brent suffering but Me his wife , his kids abd step kidshis mom and brother his family is left to live without him abd suffering in more ways then one . that man was and still is my smile ....he's the one real thing I've ever had in my life .....f@#@ You Lafayette court system . Learn to do your jobs right he maybe should have gotten that year for misdemeanor battery but that s it . not one person can stand to me and tell me if u we're in a fight facing 3 men and u just by yourself u wouldn't fight back that you wouldn't do everything u could to walk away to ur family ur kids That's what Brent is guilty of trying to defend himself against 3 men he wanted to go home tohisfamily worse then they did he just happened to be a better fighter and he got the best of th others . what would you do ? Stand there lay there and be stomped and beaten or would u give it everything u got and fight back ? I'd of done the same only I'm so smallid of probably shot or stabbed or picked up something to use as a weapon . if it was me or them I'd do everything I could to make sure I was going to live that I would make it hone to see my kids and husband . I Love You Brent Anthony Forever & Always .....Soul 1 baby

  4. Good points, although this man did have a dog in the legal fight as that it was his mother on trial ... and he a dependent. As for parking spaces, handicap spots for pregnant women sure makes sense to me ... er, I mean pregnant men or women. (Please, I meant to include pregnant men the first time, not Room 101 again, please not Room 101 again. I love BB)

  5. I have no doubt that the ADA and related laws provide that many disabilities must be addressed. The question, however, is "by whom?" Many people get dealt bad cards by life. Some are deaf. Some are blind. Some are crippled. Why is it the business of the state to "collectivize" these problems and to force those who are NOT so afflicted to pay for those who are? The fact that this litigant was a mere spectator and not a party is chilling. What happens when somebody who speaks only East Bazurkistanish wants a translator so that he can "understand" the proceedings in a case in which he has NO interest? Do I and all other taxpayers have to cough up? It would seem so. ADA should be amended to provide a simple rule: "Your handicap, YOUR problem". This would apply particularly to handicapped parking spaces, where it seems that if the "handicap" is an ingrown toenail, the government comes rushing in to assist the poor downtrodden victim. I would grant wounded vets (IED victims come to mind in particular) a pass on this.. but others? Nope.

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