Understanding the Basics of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility
Before tackling how courts may choose to work on DEI, it is helpful to start with common definitions of the concepts that are used in this Special Topic.
- Diversity refers to people of varied identities and differences, including different races, genders, religions, national origins, ethnicities, income levels, sexual orientations, and educational levels, as well as people for whom English is not their first language. In the context of court ADR programs, diversity may include having a diverse staff and a diverse roster of neutrals, and striving to be fair, accepting, and inclusive of the different attributes that staff, neutrals and program participants may bring.
- Equity is fair treatment, equality of opportunity, and access to information and resources for all, while also working to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. In the context of court ADR programs, equity is often seen as everyone who is eligible for a program having access to information about the program and being offered appropriate tools to participate fully in the program.
- Inclusion refers to situations in which any individual or group is and feels welcomed, respected, supported, valued, and able to fully participate. In the context of court ADR, inclusion is often seen as programs that make everyone feel welcome and included so they are empowered to participate in the ADR process and feel they belong.
- Accessibility is the opportunity for an individual with a disability to make use of the same or equivalent services as a person without a disability with substantially comparable ease of use. In the context of court ADR, accessibility is seen in many aspects, including communication, physical access, etc.
The Role of DEI in Court ADR Programs
Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility all work together to create a court ADR program in which parties have equal access to opportunities, feel that they are welcomed, and receive fair treatment.
A court ADR program may value DEI for a variety of reasons. For example, programs with diverse staff and neutrals may appreciate the different perspectives these individuals bring. Programs may value having diverse ADR staff and neutrals who enable their program to reflect the same diversity that is found among the parties who use their programs. The program may find that providing diverse staff and neutrals assists parties in having an experience of procedural justice.
Court ADR programs might be prompted to work on DEI for a variety of reasons. This could happen, for example, if a law or policy on DEI in the court is adopted or if the demographics of the community a program serves change and the court wishes to be more representative of its community. For other court ADR programs, a decision to focus on DEI may be a natural extension of their work in related areas. These might be mandates such as having interpreters for parties who speak languages other than English or for those who communicate using sign language. Additionally, a court ADR program’s decision to work on DEI may be as a result of physical changes to a courthouse such as renovations to ensure that make the courthouse physically more accessible.
 Parties refers to the litigants and their lawyers, while litigants refers to the people in the legal case