Lawyers and clients with disabilities face unique challenges that prevent individuals from participating equally in legal proceedings. These challenges can be addressed through disability accommodations. Disability accommodations are services or tools provided to assist those with disabilities to do something they otherwise cannot do. Many people are familiar with mobility accommodations, but accommodations addressing communications are also vital in the courtroom setting. Persons with disabilities are often forced to use these important devices without the opportunity to test them, causing more confusion and delay than a few moments preparation. Everyone’s understanding of the need for accommodations and how to participate in legal proceedings utilizing accommodations will help everyone to fully participate in legal proceedings.
Each of the courts in San Diego County address disability accommodations differently. Below is a brief summary for each court:
San Diego Superior Court
While most people are familiar with mobility accommodation requests, the San Diego Superior Court also accommodates communications disabilities. The Superior Court’s ADA Coordinator, Legal Services, the Judicial Council in San Francisco, and the Purchasing Department conduct research to update technological accommodations for non-mobility accommodations. For example, hearing devices vary in different courtrooms from in-the-ear earphones, headphones, t-coil systems and possibly Bluetooth systems that connect to the hearing aid(s). Each court generally has one of the first three technologies. Even with accommodations, it is still important for participants to speak clearly and loudly for the devices to work properly. Additionally, the Superior Court provides foreign language interpreters, physical accessibility assistance, readers for the blind, materials in alternative formats, and other assistive devices. If the Superior Court does not have the technology or accommodation that is requested, the court may provide the accommodation on a case-by-case basis. To do so, the Court prefers as much notice as possible, with a minimum of five days’ notice.
California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, First Division
The Fourth District of the California Court of Appeal requires attorneys to request certain accommodations, such as an interpreter, a minimum of five days prior to court date. The Court of Appeals’ most common accommodation request, however, is a request to have the deadline extended for requesting accommodations. The Court of Appeal’s ADA coordinator is in the Administrative Office of the Courts at only the Court of Appeal's Fourth District, First Division which includes San Diego and Imperial Counties. The Court of Appeal's technological equipment is relatively new and includes amplifiers and language interpreters. Other accommodation requests are determined on a case-by-case basis.
United States District Court For the Southern District of California
The Federal District Court does not have an ADA Coordinator, but rather a “public services” individual who provides disability accommodations. ADA requests are provided on a case-by-case basis, including headphones as described above, physical handicap accessibility, and language interpreters.
All three courts’ websites provide information regarding ADA accommodations. Below are instructions to access each court’s ADA information and how to make ADA requests.
San Diego Superior Court
On the main page of the Superior Court, there is an image of the handicap symbol, which serves as a link. Click on this and it will lead you to this page. On the top right-hand side are the instructions and a link to an accommodations request form. At the bottom of this page is the contact information for disability accommodations, including an e-mail address, a phone number for jurors, and an instruction to court employees to contact human resources.
California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
On the main page of the Court’s website go to the bottom right-hand side where you see a handicap sign and click on “More”. The link takes you to the Court’s ADA accommodations page. Halfway down the page, you will see a link for the form used to request an accommodation, Form MC-410. The Court requires the form to be submitted a minimum of five days prior to the proceeding. The Form MC-410 must be given to either the ADA Coordinator, Office of the Clerk or courtroom clerk. For others questions, the ADA page directs you to call the Court’s main phone number.
United States District Court, Southern District of California
On the District Court’s main page click on “Court Info” at the top of the page. On the Court Info page, scroll down to the General Court Info section, the first entry will be a link for ADA Services. This link takes you to one short paragraph of information regarding accommodation requests. This paragraph addresses accommodations for communication disabilities. This paragraph refers to the General Order 442-A, found under “General Orders” link on the “Rules” page. You will find General Order 442-A towards the bottom of the “General Orders” page. This order is the Court’s form for disability accommodations request(s) and is required to be submitted a minimum of ten days prior to the proceeding by mail or fax.
Suggestions for Improved Disability Accommodations in the Court System
Improved courtroom accessibility for those with disabilities will provide greater diversity and access in the courts, whether the individual is a juror, a party to a case seeking to engage in the legal process, gallery members observing court proceedings, court employees fulfilling their jobs, judges who seek to run efficient and just courtrooms, or attorneys who wish to participate in their profession on an equal footing with their colleagues. Further improvements to court’s disability accommodation procedures include testing of accommodations by individuals with disabilities, providing oral interpreters where earphones are not effective, and updating technology. With improved access and awareness of ADA accommodations, the courtroom experience and participation will improve for those with disabilities, and also lead to more effective proceedings for all involved and further the goal of bringing justice to all.