Ensuring that court ADR programs are accessible for all litigants, lawyers and neutrals can be a challenge. Nevertheless, all court ADR programs operate under legal requirements for accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all state and local agencies to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Federal courts are not subject to the ADA, but there are laws and policies that result in similar requirements.
Examples of accommodations include physical adjustments to a facility (i.e. moving furniture, offering wheelchair access), providing sign language interpreters, furnishing auxiliary aids or Braille, etc. Programs may also need to make electronic accommodations such as modifying their websites to be screen-reader accessible, using subtitles for videos, etc.
While there are many different kinds of accommodations, the type of accommodation a court ADR program employs will depend on the needs of the person with the disability and the policy of the court. Court ADR staff may find themselves in the position of facilitator between the person seeking an accommodation and the individual in the court with authority for determining what accommodations are available.
Make Accommodation Information Easily Accessible
A court’s website is often one of the first places an individual will go to seek information about a court ADR program. As a result, it is helpful to the ADR program if there is a dedicated page on the court’s site that delineates the court’s commitment to accessibility and describes the types of accommodations available. Whether or not the court has accessibility information, a court ADR program may provide similar information on its own page.
Similar to in-person accessibility, court ADR programs must ensure that their websites and other electronic platforms (such as Zoom) used for their court ADR programs are accessible.
Sometimes websites can create unnecessary barriers for individuals with disabilities. As courts work to provide accessible websites, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the variety of ways individuals with disabilities may access websites. For example, individuals may use assistive technologies or adaptive strategies to enable themselves to view websites in easier-to-read colors and font sizes; navigate a site using their voice or keyboard; or have an assistive device read content on a website to them.
The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has put together an ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments that court programs may find helpful. Within it, the Tool Kit offers some specific advice concerning websites.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many court ADR programs quickly transitioned to a virtual format. As programs move forward and consider if or how they will use virtual platforms, they may find these guides, Virtual Meetings: Accessibility Checklist & Best Practices and Zoom: Accessibility for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, to be helpful.