People with Disabilities have Severely Limited Access to Justice System, Report Finds

people with disabilities locked out of ayatemNo one ever finds themselves sitting in a courtroom and thinking about how happy or lucky they are to be there. Not unless you’re a plaintiff on the cusp of raking in a big pile of money, anyway.

Unfortunately, a new report from the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) shows that people with disabilities have even less of a reason to feel excited about making a court appearance, with access to the justice system that is woefully lacking.

The G3ict study finds that people with disabilities lack fundamental access to the legal system… and the issue persists worldwide, too, with access to justice being limited not just in developing countries, but in developed ones as well.

The Numbers

The study’s respondents represent a total of 34 countries, including 23 developing countries and 11 developed ones. Respondents included both individuals with disabilities and organizations belonging to the International Disability Alliance.

A staggering 84 percent of respondents said they felt people with disabilities “lack access to the justice system that is equal” to that of others, while 85 percent believe people with disabilities “face moderate to extreme barriers” to the justice system and that they are directly impacted by said barriers.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of respondents said people with disabilities have very little access to the justice system in their countries, while 13 percent said they have no access at all.

Related: Defending Deaf Prisoners in Georgia Who are Forgotten — and Abused — by the Prison System

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study shows that people in developing countries were more exposed to extreme barriers than those in developed countries, with 61 percent of respondents from developing countries saying they faced extreme barriers, as opposed to only 40 percent in developed countries.

What challenges do people with disabilities face in courtrooms? The study shows that 93 percent of respondents feel they lack access to information, while 81 percent struggle participating in courtroom proceedings, and 70 percent face issues with filing and tracking the progress of cases.

Does Technology Offer Solutions to These Justice System Woes?

Justice system personnel lack training. There’s limited accessible technology. Court documents are rarely available in alternative formats, such as braille. Documents lack accessibility, assistive devices are not available in courtrooms, legal information and services are prohibitively expensive. And that’s just a few of the barriers people with disabilities need to hurdle while navigating the justice system in their country, developed or otherwise.

What’s the solution to this lengthy list of issues? According to the vast majority of respondents — 89 percent of them, in fact — technology might hold the answers.

Courtrooms should be utilizing technology to level the playing field for people with disabilities, affording them better access and offering greater assistance. Sadly, 65 percent of respondents say this isn’t happening, despite 97 percent saying they’d be willing to use technology to improve their access.

Report Provides Valuable Insights for the United Nations

”More than 175 countries around the world have committed to the equal and effective participation of persons with disabilities at all stages of and within every role within justice systems,” said James Thurston, G3ict’s Vice President for Global Strategy & Development. “Globally, governments are falling far short of securing that human right. At G3ict we think that existing and emerging technologies can help address this failure to ensure access to justice for all.”

Article 13 of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) mandates that countries need to ensure access to the justice system for people with disabilities equal to that of everyone else. But this G3ict report shows that most countries have been slow in making these much-needed reforms.

“We remain concerned that despite the CRPD being enforced for more than a decade, access to justice remains an overwhelming issue for persons with disabilities where they continue to find barriers to participation,” says IDA Chair Ana Lucia Arellano. “We share optimism of our partners that technology can be used to improve access to justice. Yet, we have to be cautious that these technologies will be accessible for all persons with disabilities.”

“The CRPD committee is deeply committed to supporting more progress worldwide consistent with Article 13 of the CRPD,” said Theresia Degener, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “This new report from IDA and G3ict will be a useful input as we all explore how we can achieve greater access to justice for persons with disabilities.”

Axel Lebois and Vladmir Cuk
Images from interviews by ABILITY Magazine during a UN’s CRPD session: Axel Lebois from G3ict and Vladmir Cuk from IDA

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