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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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