Lawyer sees Super Bowl as moment to showcase inclusiveness

Jenny Montgomery
February 1, 2012
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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)

“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.”•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  2. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  3. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.

  4. While if true this auto dealer should be held liable, where was the BMV in all of this? How is it that the dealer was able to get "clean" titles to these vehicles in order to sell them to unsuspecting consumers?

  5. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless [ ] Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. GOD BLESS THE GOVERNORS RESISTING! Count on the gutless judiciary to tie our children down and facilitate the swords being drawn across their throats. Wake Up America ...