Civil Rights

Access to Courts by Americans with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates nondiscrimination based on disability in state and local government services, programs, and activities. State and local courts are subject to the provisions of the ADA. State and local courts are required to modify policies and procedures to prevent discrimination based on disability, remove architectural and communication barriers, and provide accessible services. However, a request for a particular aid or service does not have to be met where compliance with the request would create an undue financial or administrative burden.

Modifying Policies and Procedures

A court policy that exempts persons with hearing or visual disabilities from jury service would have to be changed. Also, a policy that prohibited service animals in court buildings would be contrary to the provisions of the ADA. A service animal must be allowed to accompany a disabled person in all public areas of the court building.

Removing Architectural Barriers

Under the ADA, court buildings and courtrooms have to be accessible to persons with disabilities. However, a court is not required to make a fundamental alteration in its facilities, nor is a court required to undertake undue financial and administrative burdens in making its facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.

Removing Communication Barriers

State and local courts have to provide sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, and other types of aids and services without cost to a litigant (a party in a lawsuit). Witnesses, jurors, attorneys are also covered by the ADA. Public spectators in the courtroom are probably also covered by the ADA but spectators' needs should be evaluated on a case by case basis. Court forms and written documents must meet the effective communication requirement. If requested, the court must make forms available to visually impaired persons in a usable format. This might include providing large-print forms and Braille documents.

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