Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Ensuring digital inclusion and access to justiceTonisha Kelleher
The purpose of Global Accessibility Awareness Day is to educate people about digital access and inclusion.
For policymakers, organizations, and technology providers in the legal and justice spaces, it is imperative to drive commitment to practices that ensure every person living with a disability has positive digital experiences—whether they are accessing content, resources, websites, digital platforms, remote/hybrid proceedings, or internet-enabled court services.
Cultivating opportunities for people with disabilities to achieve successful outcomes, in the same way people without disabilities can, is integral to an accessible and fair society.
The convenience and efficiency of virtual court platforms and services have contributed to an increase in inclusivity in some regards, especially for people with mobility challenges or for those who can’t afford to take time off work for in-person proceedings.
However, for people on the other side of the ‘digital divide’—a chasm created by disparate access to, and familiarity with, technology—the transition to online court services can impede access to justice.
Understanding both the potential benefits and inequities of remote proceedings and digital court services helps policymakers and courts better address underlying connectivity barriers for all people with diverse needs.
Barriers to meaningful participation for people with disabilities and those impacted by the ‘digital divide’ are diverse
For people with disabilities and other court users—including participants, their families, self-represented litigants, court staff, and attorneys—the digital divide can manifest in numerous ways.
Expanding access to court functions through remote proceedings and digital services should not disadvantage those lacking affordable broadband connectivity, adequate devices, digital literacy, sufficient support and aides, or the economic means to meaningfully participate.
Courts and policymakers must recognize all the ways the ‘digital divide’ prevents equal access to remote proceedings and digital services, as well as the resources and services that can work towards ensuring remote and digital participation in the justice system is beneficial and accessible for all.
Upholding the justice system’s fundamental principles of fairness and equality while modernizing courts and their processes
Since there are benefits and inequities to both in-person and remote proceedings and services, the answer is not to simply abandon the digitization of processes in favour of pre-pandemic methods.
Awareness and education can ensure all involved in the legal justice system—from court systems and the creators of virtual platforms to non-profits and law firms—can play a part in implementing people-centric processes, policies, technology, and services.
These promote meaningful access to justice by considering and addressing the specific needs of individuals—be it economic factors, digital and general literacy, disability access, language access, attorney access, or self-representation access.
To ensure that justice becomes more accessible as it evolves, numerous non-profits, such as the National Center for State Courts, have provided recommendations for bridging the digital divide.
Courts are also implementing community outreach measures, such as the Massachusetts Trial Court Access to Justice initiative—a collaboration between a public library and the court to provide the public with access to computer terminals and the internet to search for court resources, such as interpreter services, legal aid, case information, and more.
Research and feedback loops underpin the evolution of legal technology
From increasing accessibility of in-person, hybrid, and remote proceedings for people who are deaf or hard of hearing by enabling real-time speech-to-text to providing simplified usability, consistent navigation, and clear communication in our software user interfaces, we are committed to inclusive product and platform design and development because we have seen first-hand the positive impact it can have.
While the transition to remote and hybrid legal proceedings and digital court services has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, further research and feedback loops involving the people affected by these issues must continue to be a focus, ensuring technology is a beneficial component of the modern judicial landscape.
If you have any feedback on the accessibility and usability of our products, please contact us.