Description: Image starts. Front of a stone court house with columns and carving of the word Judicial. Title of document is "A Meaningful Opportunity to Participate: A Handbook for Georgia Court Officials on Courtroom Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities." Written by Georgia Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts and Administrative Office of the Courts. Image ends.



Table of Contents



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ................................................................................. 6


INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................. 7


OUR CHALLENGE ......................................................................................... 8

OUR APPROACH ........................................................................................... 8

THE BENEFITS.............................................................................................. 9




PART I   An Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act ......11




THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA) .........................................13

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY .................................................................................13

Defining Disability Under the ADA ..................................................13

Qualified Individual with a Disability..............................................15

ACTIVITIES COVERED BY THE ADA.............................................................16

INTEGRATED SETTINGS...............................................................................16




PART II   Interacting with Persons with Disabilities .......................17



USING PERSON-FIRST LANGUAGE...............................................................20

PEOPLE WHO ARE DEAF OR HARD OF HEARING.........................................21


PEOPLE WHO ARE BLIND OR VISUALLY IMPAIRED ......................................24

PEOPLE WHO HAVE MOBILITY LIMITATIONS ...............................................25

PEOPLE WHO HAVE COGNITIVE DISABILITIES.............................................26

SERVICE ANIMALS ......................................................................................27




PART III   Establishing a Disability/Accommodation Protocol .....29




DEVELOPING THE ACCOMMODATION PROTOCOL ........................................32




PART IV  Removing Common Barriers to Access ........................35




EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION......................................................................37


Auxiliary Aids and Services .............................................................. 39

Assistive Listening Systems........................................................39

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)Serv 40

Sign Language Interpreters ......................................................40

Text Telephone (TTY) ...................................................................41

Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) .............................42

Public Service Announcements ................................................43

Alternate Document Formats...................................................44

Accessible Websites ....................................................................44




FACILITY ACCESS .......................................................................................47


Existing Facilities ............................................................................47

Setting Priorities..........................................................................48

Historic Preservation .................................................................49


NEW CONSTRUCTION AND ALTERATIONS ...................................................50

GUIDELINES FOR COURTROOM ACCESSIBILITY............................................51


APPENDIX A     BUILDING CAPACITY: RESOURCES....................................53


APPENDIX C     SAMPLE GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE....................................65


APPENDIX E    LAW SUPPLEMENT ...........................................................89




Georgia Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts

2004-2005 Membership


Justice Carol W. Hunstein, Chair


Linda A. Klein, Esq., Vice-Chair                   Honorable Barbara J. Mobley Professor Marjorie Girth                                                                Lisa E. Chang, Esq. Honorable Steven C. Jones                                                                        Honorable Cynthia Wright Honorable Nina M. Radakovich                                                     Honorable Nelly Withers Gwendolyn R. Keyes, Esq.                                                                 Honorable James Bass Honorable Brenda S. Weaver                                                            R. Gary Spencer, Esq.

Robert Woo, Esq.                                            Allegra Lawrence, Esq. Albert Bolet, III., Esq.                                                                        Carrie Baker, Ph.D. Honorable Wayne M. Purdom                                                           Honorable Robin S. Nash Honorable Constance Russell                                           William K. Whitner, Esq. Maria Tsagaris




Staff:     Stephanie Chambliss, Program Manager, AOC Marla S. Moore, Senior Associate Director, AOC

Helen Scholes, Asst. Director of Human Resources, AOC





Accessibility Advisory Team


Justice Carol W. Hunstein                               Lisa E. Chang, Esq. Honorable Thomas C. Bobbitt, III                                                     Dianne Brannen, Esq. Honorable Joseph Booth                                                              Judson Bryant Honorable Mary Carden                                                                        Mike Galifianakis, Esq.

Honorable Craig Schwall                                Professor Adam Milani, Esq. Honorable Susan Tate                                                                 Pat Puckett

Dr. Jenny Manders                                          Tamara Rorie, Esq. Burrell Ellis (Represented by Matthew Cielinski)







Funding for this document was provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts and Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission.


Principal Author Curtis D. Edmonds, J.D., Member,

State Bar of Georgia and State Bar of Texas.



Contributors:    Tim Bromley                             Marla S. Moore Cynthia Briscoe Brown                                       Pat Puckett Frances Finegan                                                  Helen Scholes Diane Fowler                                                  Heidi Thomas Mike Galifianakis                                                  Vanessa Volz LaEbonia Griffin                                                  John Weber Christine Kempton                                                  Marc Wilkerson Jenny Manders




Special Thanks to:    Jim Bostrom                     Linda Hanscombe Mike Charmatz                                         Richard Reeves Mary Ann Eaddy                                         Dave Yanchulis


The Georgia Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts would like to express its gratitude to Ms. Gena Abraham, Director, Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission and her staff for their research, relentless spirit and dedication demonstrated throughout the entire project.



© Georgia Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts, December 2004


Cover Photo: Dave Adams, Photographer






Georgia courts have an affirmative obligation to take proactive steps to remove barriers to accessibility for people with disabilities. Over 1.4 million Georgians have some kind of disability. This handbook is designed to help Georgia courts identify and remove barriers to access to Georgia’s courts for people with disabilities.




Disability is a natural part of life.  There are over 1.4 million Georgians with some kind of disability. Some Georgians acquire disabilities at birth, such as cerebral palsy, while others acquire them later in life, such as a spinal cord injury.  Some people have obvious disabilities, such as blindness, while others experience disabilities coined as “hidden, such as diabetes, deafness, HIV infection and epilepsy. Some individuals undergoing cancer treatment experience disability on a temporary basis, while others have permanently disabling conditions that may be progressive in nature. As a result of disabilities, many Georgians are significantly restricted in their ability to hear, see, think, breathe, walk or conduct many other life activities.


Citizens with disabilities play an important role in all Georgia’s communities and families.

At any given time, these citizens may come into contact with our court system. Citizens with disabilities may serve as jurors, may appear as parties or witnesses in a trial, or may choose to attend a hearing as observers.  More and more frequently, people with disabilities will be serving as lawyers, clerks, court reporters, and judges in the Georgia court system.


While some individuals with disabilities are able to take part in various court processes and activities without difficulty, for many others their disabilities combined with environmental obstacles impose significant barriers to an equal opportunity to participate. Therefore, Georgia courts have an affirmative obligation to identify and remove barriers for people with disabilities so they can access court programs and services, including judicial proceedings, jury service, and courthouse meetings.


Common barriers to access include:


·     Lack of awareness or unintended insensitivity to disability-related concerns


·     Lack of effective auxiliary aids and services for individuals with communication disabilities


·     Inaccessible court facilities for individuals with mobility impairments


·     Inflexible court policies, practices and procedures



Our Challenge



Disability presents two related, yet distinct, challenges for Georgia courts. The first challenge involves developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to address general accessibility concerns for Georgians with disabilities, including but not limited to removing architectural barriers in courthouses, installing assistive listening systems in courtrooms, providing materials in alternative formats and making court websites accessible for people who use assistive technology. These actions improve access to the courts for many people.


The second challenge involves interacting with people with disabilities as individuals, and

not just as members of a group. No two people with disabilities are alike; each individual has unique skills, aptitudes, and capacities. Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary to provide an individualized accommodation, such as a sign language interpreter for a person who is deaf, to ensure an equal opportunity to be heard in the administration of justice. Moreover, an accommodation that works well for one individual with a disability may not work as well for someone else with a similar disability. Thus, courts must evaluate on a case- by-case basis each request for a reasonable accommodation by a person with a disability.




Our Approach


This handbook is designed to accomplish two tasks: (1) to provide accurate, up-to-date information about the rights of people with disabilities in clear, easy-to-understand language; and (2) to build the capacity of judges, bailiffs, clerks, and other courthouse personnel to effectively identify and remove the  barriers to full participation that individuals with disabilities encounter in Georgia courtrooms.


To address these challenges, this handbook follows the framework established in the

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).


On May 17, 2004, in Tennessee v. Lane, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a State is not immune from an ADA lawsuit brought regarding the accessibility of a county courthouse. The Court determined that Congress had the Constitutional authority to pass the ADA to enforce the “due process and equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to combat unfair discrimination in the administration of justice. The Supreme Court’s decision in Lane reaffirms the ongoing responsibility of Georgia courts to accommodate individuals with disabilities under Title II of the ADA.  The Lane decision does not impose any new accessibility requirements on courts. Instead, Lane reinforces the need for courts to have greater awareness and understanding about the current requirements of the ADA.


The ADA only sets minimum standards for accessibility and accommodations. Given the scope of the challenges that courts face in addressing disability-related issues, courts must recognize and remember that the ADA was designed to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. When courts are asked to take steps to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to court programs, services, and activities, it is important to view such requests in the context of the civil rights of an individual with a disability, instead of seeing ADA compliance as an unwanted mandate.


This handbook is not intended as a complete ADA compliance manual; it is a resource for Georgia courts.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains an ADA technical assistance manual for Title II entities at: Also, Appendix E contains additional reference information for judges and court administrators on federal and state law applicable to courts.




The Benefits


The benefits of providing disability-related accommodations greatly outweigh the associated costs. These benefits include:


·     Ensuring due process, equal protection, and civil rights of individuals with disabilities;


·     Empowering Georgia’s citizens with disabilities to fully participate in the judicial system by exercising the rights and responsibilities expected of all citizens, such as jury service;



·     Increasing the capacity of Georgia’s courts to respond to accommodation requests and the specific needs of individuals with disabilities; and


·     Enhancing the usability and accessibility of Georgia’s courts for a broad range of people with and without disabilities.


















An Overview of the

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)












“[O]rdinary considerations of cost and convenience alone cannot justify a State’s failure to provide individuals with a meaningful right of access to the courts. Judged against this backdrop, Title II’s affirmative obligation to accommodate persons with disabilities in the administration of justice cannot be said to be ‘so out of proportion to a supposed remedial or preventive object that it cannot be understood as responsive to, or designed to prevent, unconstitutional behavior.’  It is, rather, a reasonable prophylactic measure, reasonably targeted to a legitimate end.”




Justice John Paul Stevens, Tennessee v. Lane, May 17th, 2004




Courts must provide equal access to all Georgians with disabilities in an integrated setting, and must make reasonable accommodations when necessary, unless doing so constitutes an undue administrative or financial burden, or fundamentally alters the nature of court programs, services and activities. Georgia courts must be aware of the basic minimum requirements for accessibility under the ADA, which include many different courtroom activities.





The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)



Congress passed the ADA in 1990 “to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The ADA is the world’s first comprehensive, national law protecting the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. At the time the ADA was passed, over 43 million Americans experienced some form of disability. In its lengthy findings about the necessity of the ADA, Congress stated that “the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity.”




Equal Opportunity



The goal of the ADA is to provide equal opportunity for people with disabilities. In the administration of justice, Georgia courts must provide an equally effective opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in the programs the court offers to citizens. The general principle underlying a court’s obligations under the ADA is protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities to enjoy and benefit from the services, programs and activities provided to all people by the court system.




Defining Disability Under the ADA



Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) has a record ofsuch an impairment; or is (3) regarded as” having such an impairment. Under the first prong of the definition, a physical impairment is defined as any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine. A mental impairment is defined as any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.




Not all physical or mental impairments constitute disabilities under the ADA.  For a physical or mental impairment to be defined as a disability, the impairment or a combination of impairments must substantially limit one or more major life activities. Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and participating in community activities. Whether an individual has a disabling impairment depends on the particular facts of each individual case.


To determine if an impairment substantially limits a major life activity, the following factors should be considered: the nature and severity of the impairment; the permanent or long-term impact of the impairment; and the duration of the impairment. Thus, temporary, nonchronic impairments that do not last a long time and have little or no long-term impact, such as broken limbs, sprained joints, concussions, appendicitis, and influenza, usually are not viewed as disabilities. For example, a broken leg, which is an impairment of relatively brief duration, would not be considered a disability. However, the residual impact of an improperly healed broken leg might be considered a disability. Likewise, a temporary psychological impairment is not considered a disability under the ADA, while a long-term or permanent impairment may be a disability.


In three cases decided in 1999, the United States Supreme Court resolved the issue of whether “mitigating measures should be considered when determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.1  The Court narrowed the parameters of who is covered under the ADA, ruling that mitigating measures, such as eyeglasses and medication, must be considered when deciding whether an individual is “substantially limited in a major life activity,” and therefore protected under the ADA.  The Court held that when mitigating measures are available, a person is not disabled unless the medical condition substantially limits a major life activity in the condition’s corrected state.


The second prong of the ADA definition of disability covers individuals who have a “record ofsuch an impairment although they are currently not impaired in any way.  For example, an individual with cancer may have taken significant time off from work for chemotherapy.

Years later, a potential employer, noting the gap in employment, may not hire that individual

even though the individual is currently not impaired in any way.  The individual would be covered by the ADA because of the past “record of” a disability.


The third prong of the ADA definition of disability covers individuals who are “regarded as” having such an impairment by a covered entity.  This prong covers (1) individuals who are believed to have substantially limiting impairments they do not have or (2) who are believed to have substantially limiting impairments when, in fact, the impairments are not so limiting. For example, a person with severe burn scars may be viewed as substantially limited in some way when, in fact, there is no limitation.










Sutton v. United Air Lines 527 U.S. 471 (1999); Murphy v. United Parcel Service 527 U.S. 516 (1999);

Albertson’s, Inc. v. Kirkingburg 527 U.S. 555 (1999).


Congress specified numerous conditions that are excluded from the definition of disability, including: sexual disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, and disorders resulting from current illegal drug use.  In addition, the ADA does not protect individuals who would create an imminent and substantial danger to themselves or others when there is no reasonable accommodation that would remove the danger.




Qualified Individual with a Disability



Under the ADA, qualified individuals with disabilities must have equal access to court programs, services and activities. An individual is qualified when he or she meets the essential eligibility requirements for participation.


When determining whether someone is qualified, courts must (1) make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices and procedures; or (2) furnish auxiliary aids or services when necessary to ensure an equally effective opportunity to participate. However, a court is not required to take any action that would constitute an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of the program, service or activity.


For example, a court may have a policy against bringing animals into a courtroom. If a woman who is blind is called as a potential juror and would need to bring her guide dog into the jury box, the court should make a reasonable modification of that policy and allow the juror to bring her guide dog.  However, such a request could be a “fundamental alteration” in some instances. For example, if one party in a civil case has an extreme fear of dogs or has an attorney who objects to the presence of dogs on religious grounds, a court could find that the presence of the dog would fundamentally alter the court proceeding by infringing on the rights of an indispensable party or attorney in this case. Thus, a court may arrange to have the juror serve in another courtroom for another case, or excuse the juror.


Eligibility criteria for access to court programs, services and activities which tend to exclude persons with disabilities must not be based on stereotype, speculation or arbitrary basis. Instead this determination must be made on a case by case basis. For example a potential juror who is blind may not be qualified to serve on a jury requiring visual perception such as at a trial for forgery, but may be qualified to serve as a juror in other cases if provided with

reasonable accommodations, i.e. written evidence could be provided in alternate format or by

the provision of a reader.


A court may reject an accommodation request where the individual with a disability is not otherwise qualified, For example, a court would not be required to provide a sign language interpreter for a potential juror if that juror who did not meet the essential eligibility requirement of residency.


Activities Covered by The ADA


Almost every activity conducted by a Georgia court is covered by Title II’s mandate that

state and local courts ensure that qualified individuals with physical or mental disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in court programs, services or activities. Title II covers the juror selection system, trials, hearings, courthouse security procedures and access to libraries, publications, Internet sites, dispute resolution programs, and seminars offered by the court. Even if a trial or hearing is closed to the public, Title II applies if one of the participants has a disability. Title II also applies to the physical accessibility of courtrooms and courthouse structures.


The U.S. Supreme Court has broadly applied the “program access” requirement of Title II.

In Pennsylvania v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206 (1998), the U.S. Supreme Court applied the ADA’s

use of the terms “services, programs, and activities” liberally to include a “motivational boot camp offered for state prisoners.  The Court held that state prisons were clearly subject to the ADA and that the boot camp was an ADA-protected, voluntary program by virtue of its definition in a Pennsylvania statute.


Certain internal administrative functions of the court which are not open to the public, such as regular staff meetings for courthouse personnel, are not covered under Title II.  However,

a court may have to provide reasonable accommodations to court employees with disabilities

under the employment provisions of the ADA.




Integrated Settings


Court programs, services and activities must be provided to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting to the maximum extent feasible. The ADA’s “integration mandate” provides that segregation and isolation are forms of discrimination and should be avoided to achieve equal opportunity. Sometimes, it may be necessary to provide access in an alternative manner. For example, a court may construct a fully accessible courtroom in a courthouse to accommodate people with disabilities. However, the court must ensure that this effort does not result in unnecessary segregation, i.e. the court must not reserve the accessible courtroom solely for cases involving people with disabilities.
















Interacting With Persons With Disabilities



General Considerations



The most important thing Georgia court officials can do in their day-to-day interactions with people with disabilities is to treat individuals with disabilities with the same courtesy, dignity and respect that you afford everyone else. There is no need to be nervous or apprehensive in talking and working with people with disabilities.


A person with a disability may be able to access every feature in a courtroom but may be left out of court activities if court personnel exhibit negative or unhelpful attitudes to simple accommodation requests or requests for information. Eliminating these attitudinal barriers can help ensure that people with disabilities have full access to Georgia courts.


The Commission on Access and Fairness in the Courts has developed a reference guide for court officials when interacting with people with disabilities. Some tips from the guide are:


·     Don’t make assumptions about the person or the disability.


·     Always speak directly to the person with a disability, not to a companion, assistant or sign language interpreter. Speak in your normal tone and do not raise your voice unless requested.



·     If the person doesn’t understand you, try again. Don’t become anxious if you have to make repeated attempts at listening or speaking to ensure effective communication.


·     Do not assume that a person with a disability needs help If someone looks in need of help, it is always appropriate to offer assistance with sensitivity. If your offer to assist is accepted, listen or ask for instructions before you act. Do not let it bother you if someone refuses your offer of assistance.



·     Generally, assistance with doors is greatly appreciated as long as you are clear of the path of travel.


·     Familiarize yourself with the court’s accessibility features and accommodation protocol. When people with disabilities ask for accommodations, they are not complaining. Rather, they are asking for what they believe necessary to fully and equally participate in that particular court activity, service or program.



·     Respond courteously to all accommodation requests and be sure to promptly direct the request to appropriate personnel who can assist.


·     Not all disabilities are apparent. Because of the stigma associated with certain disabilities, people may be reluctant to disclose a disability or ask for an accommodation. If someone looks as though he or she may not understand you, do not ask them if they have a disability. Instead, ask in a respectful way if there is an alternative method for facilitating communication.


Special Considerations for Judges in the Courtroom



Judges are the embodiment of justice. Everyone looks to the court to ensure full and effective participation for people with disabilities. Top-level leadership and commitment are essential in developing an environment where access is not only a requirement but an expectation for all citizens.


·     Judges should carefully evaluate requests for accommodation made by people with disabilities appearing in the courtroom. Although the court makes the final decision regarding the most appropriate accommodation for each particular situation, allow yourself to be educated by people about their disabilities. The individuals have experience and information regarding their disabilities and are usually able to suggest the best way to accommodate their needs.


·     Use person-first language. Put the person ahead of the disability in order to communicate your recognition that the person’s disability is not the most important part of the person’s identity. For example, it is more polite to say “the juror with a disability” than “the disabled juror” or “the handicapped juror.”


·     Train your staff, including the bailiffs, to be sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. Patience and flexibility are important because, just as with most other citizens, many people with disabilities will not be familiar with the procedures and practices of your court.




Using Person-First Language



In verbal and written communication, use person-first language consistently. Person-first language recognizes that a person’s disability is not the most important part of that person’s identity.



·     Using person-first language is an effort to be polite and sensitive and not an attempt to restrict the use of language.


·     Put the person ahead of the identifier of the disability in a given sentence. For example, saying “people with disabilities” is more appropriate, thoughtful and sensitive than saying “disabled people.”


·     Avoid language that is insulting or dehumanizing. Words like “crippled, “deaf- mute” and “deformed while once commonly used are now considered offensive when applied to individuals with disabilities.



·     To avoid repetitive usage in long documents, switch around the order of words that appear frequently on one page. For example, consider using “Georgians with disabilities or “juror with a disability” but keep the person-first pattern consistent.



Interacting with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing



There is a broad spectrum of hearing loss among Georgians, ranging from mild hearing loss to profound deafness. Most Georgians with hearing loss can be accommodated in court when assistive listening devices are available. However, in certain situations, more individualized accommodations, such as Communication Access Realtime Translations (CART) or sign language interpreters, are necessary to facilitate effective communication with the court.


When interacting with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, consider the following tips:


·     There are a wide range of hearing losses and communication preferences. If you do not know the individual's preferred communication method, ask.


·     Make direct eye contact. Natural facial expressions and gestures will provide important information to your conversation. Keep your face and mouth visible when speaking.


·     Before speaking to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, get the person’s attention. To get a person's attention, call his or her name. If there is no response, lightly touch the person’s arm or shoulder.


·     If you are asked to repeat yourself several times, try rephrasing your sentence.


·     Writing information down may facilitate communication.


·     When speaking to a person who lip-reads or is hard of hearing, speak clearly. Do not exaggerate your speech. Shouting does not help communication.


·     The role of a sign language interpreter is to facilitate communication between people who do not share a common language. Therefore, interpreters should not participate or be included in the communication outside of that role and function.


·     Good lighting is important to facilitate clear communication.


Range of deafness and hard of hearing:


·     Individuals who are hard of hearing or late deafened (those who became deaf after acquiring speech and language skills) may use hearing aids, cochlear implants, and/or assistive listening devices to support their residual hearing or they may not use any augmentative devices at all. They may use lip reading skills to facilitate one-on-one communication and may use sign language or oral interpreters in group settings. Individuals who are hard of hearing or late-deafened commonly use spoken English

as a method of communicating verbally and may or may not know how to communicate with sign language.


·     Individuals who are “prelingually or “culturally deaf are those who were born deaf or became deaf prior to acquiring speech and language skills. They most likely will use American Sign Language (ASL) or a form of English sign language to communicate and may or may not have lip reading skills. Some individuals may use hearing aids or cochlear implants to augment residual hearing.


·     Individuals who are deaf-blind are those who are deaf or hard of hearing and are also blind or have low vision (also called partial sight) that cannot be satisfactorily corrected with glasses, contacts or surgery. They aren’t necessarily profoundly deaf and totally blind; they may have "tunnel vision" and be hard of hearing. To communicate, they may use tactile sign language, fingerspelling or print-in-palm. They may also require either close or far proximity for clarity of visual field or they may need an interpreter to sign in a small space.  For written communication, individuals who are deaf-blind may rely extensively on Braille, a system of raised dots to represent letters. Depending on the type of vision loss they have and if they communicate using sign language, these individuals may or may not have special requirements to accommodate their visual field and language needs.


·     Some individuals who are deaf may have had only limited exposure to formal language (spoken or signed) and consequently are not fluent in ASL or English. They may or may not have an effective gestural communication form that can be used to give or receive information. Therefore, providing communication access for individuals who have minimal linguistic competency will be most challenging. This process is most often facilitated by working with a certified hearing interpreter in conjunction with a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI).


Interacting with People Who Have Speech or Language Disorders



Speech and language disorders are inabilities of individuals to understand and/or appropriately use the speech and language systems of society. Such disorders may range from simple sound repetitions and occasional misarticulations to the complete absence of the ability to use speech and language for communication. Speech and language problems can exist together or independently. Some causes of speech and language disorders include hearing loss, stroke, brain injury, mental retardation, drug abuse, cleft lip or palate and vocal abuse or misuse. Frequently, however, the cause is unknown.


Speech problems affect how the communication message sounds.  There is a speech problem when so many speech sounds are distorted that the speaker cannot be understood, when there is no source of sound because the vocal cords have been surgically removed, or when stuttering disrupts the natural rhythm of the oral message. Speech disorders include fluency disorders, motor speech disorders and voice disorders:


·     A fluency disorder is an interruption in the flow of speaking characterized by atypical rate, rhythm and repetitions in sounds, syllables, words and phrases. This interruption may be accompanied by excessive tension, struggle behavior and secondary mannerisms. Stuttering is a type of fluency disorder.


·     A motor speech disorder is an impairment of speech arising from damage to the central or peripheral nervous system that can affect a person’s speech, voice and breath support for communication and swallowing. Often, Parkinson’s Disease, Hunington’s Disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) lead to motor speech disorders.


·     A voice disorder is characterized by the abnormal production and/or absence of vocal quality, pitch, loudness, resonance and/or duration, given an individual’s age and/or sex.  Vocal abuse and misuse are the most prevalent causes and preventable types of voice disorders.


Language disorders are the impaired comprehension and/or use of spoken, written and/or other symbol systems.  Language refers to a code made up of a group of rules that cover what words mean, how to make new words, how to combine words and what word combinations are best in what situations.  A person who cannot understand the language code has a receptive language problem. A person who is not using enough language rules to share thoughts, ideas, and feelings completely and appropriately has an expressive language problem. One type of problem can exist without the other, but often they occur together in children and adults.


When interacting with people who have speech or language disorders, consider the following tips:


·     Give the person your full attention. Don't interrupt or finish the person's sentences.

Listen patiently and carefully.


·     Do not assume that a person with a speech impairment doesn’t understand you.


·     If you have trouble understanding, ask the person to repeat the statement. If, after trying, you still cannot understand, ask the person to write it down or suggest another way of facilitating communication.



·     If necessary, repeat your understanding of the message in order to clarify or confirm what the person said.


·     Provide a quiet environment to make communication easier.





Interacting with People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired


Blindness is the total or partial inability to see because of a disease or disorder of the eye, optic nerve or brain. Legal blindness is defined as a visual acuity of 20/200 or worse with the best possible correction. Someone with a visual acuity of 20/200 can see at 20 feet what someone with normal sight can see at 200 feet.


Vision impairment means that a person's eyesight cannot be corrected to a "normal" level.  It is a loss of vision that makes it hard or impossible to do daily tasks without specialized adaptations. Vision impairment may be caused by a loss of visual acuity where the eye does not see objects as clearly as usual.  It may also be caused by a loss of visual field where the eye cannot see as wide an area as usual without moving the eyes or turning the head.


Visual acuity alone cannot tell you how much a person's life will be affected by vision loss. It is important to also assess how well a person uses the vision he or she has.  Two people may have the same visual acuity, but one may be able to use his or her vision better to do everyday tasks.  Many people who are "blind" may have some usable vision that can help them move around in their environment and do things in their daily lives.


When interacting with people who are blind or visually impaired, consider the following tips:


·     Identify yourself and address the individual by name so the person will know you are speaking to him or her.


·     It is appropriate to ask, “Would you like me to guide you? If your offer is accepted, let the person take your arm just above the elbow.


·     Offer to read written information.


·     Provide all standard printed information available to the public concerning court policies, practices and procedures in an alternate format such as Braille, audio tape, electronic format or large print. Efforts should also be made to provide information at kiosks or posted signage in an audible format.


·     If the individual has a guide dog, walk on the side opposite the dog. As you are walking, describe the setting, noting any obstacles such as stairs ("up" or "down") and objects protruding from the wall at head level.



·     Never pet a guide dog (or any other service animal) before getting permission from its handler to do so.  The dog is working and must concentrate.


·     If you need to leave a person alone, inform the person first and make sure there is a rail, wall or something else he or she can touch.


·     A persons cane is part of the individual's personal space, so avoid touching itIf the person puts the cane down, don't move it.  Let the person know if it is in the way.





Interacting With People Who Have Mobility Limitations


A mobility impairment involves the partial or complete loss of use of any of an individual’s limbs. Mobility impairment refers to a broad range of disabilities which include orthopedic, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders. Many things can cause mobility impairment including disease (polio), spinal cord trauma (a motor vehicle accident) and disorders occurring at or before birth (cerebral palsy).


Many disabilities which cause mobility impairment are visible because individuals may rely upon assistive devices such as wheelchairs, scooters, crutches and canes.  Other disabilities that cause mobility impairments, such as arthritis, are invisible but need to be taken equally seriously.


When interacting with people who have mobility limitations, consider the following tips:


·     Avoid touching or leaning on a person’s wheelchair, scooter or walking aid without permission. People with disabilities consider their mobility devices as part of their personal space.


·     Be aware of an individual's reach limits.  Place as many items as possible within the grasp of a wheelchair user.  If a service counter is too high for a wheelchair user to see over, step around it to provide service. Also, have a clipboard available if filling in forms or providing signatures is expected.



·     Sit down and/or position yourself at the same eye contact level when speaking with a wheelchair user for more than a few moments.


·     Provide a chair for someone who has difficulty standing for an extended time.


·     People who are not visibly mobility-impaired may, have medical needs that impact their ability to get around the court house.  For example, a person with a heart condition may have trouble walking quickly or long distances and may need chairs or benches to sit and rest on.




Interacting With People Who Have Cognitive Disabilities


The wide variance among the mental capabilities of those with cognitive disabilities (any disability affecting mental processes) complicates matters in the court house because a person with mental retardation will not have the same needs as a person who has attention

deficit disorder or autism.  A person with profound cognitive disabilities will need assistance with nearly every aspect of daily living. Someone with a minor learning disorder, however,

may be able to function adequately despite the disorder, perhaps even to the extent that the disorder is never discovered or diagnosed. It is important, however, not to approach an

individual with any preconceived notions as to his or her specific capabilities. Not everyone who is slow speaking is cognitively impaired.



Many legal or courtroom-related terms and concepts are complex and may be difficult to understand. People with some form of cognitive disability, however, may be reluctant to disclose their disability or to disclose that they do not understand the information being presented. If you suspect that someone may be struggling to understand, ask, ”This is very complicated. May I explain this in a different way that may make it easier to understand?” The use of simple, easily understood language will benefit all participants -- not only people with disabilities.


When interacting with people who have cognitive disabilities, consider the following tips:


·     Speak clearly and slowly and keep sentences short.


·     Break complicated information or instructions down into shorter, distinct parts and avoid complex terms.


·     If possible, use symbols, pictures or actions to help convey meaning.


·     Ask concrete, open-ended questions. Avoid “yes-no” answers.


·     Allow for additional time to speak with participants and for them to respond.


·     When necessary, repeat information using different wording or a different communication approach. Allow time for the information to be fully understood.


·     Provide material on audiotape rather than in written form.




Service Animals


In addition to people who are blind and may use guide dogs, other people with disabilities may use animals to assist them.  For example, some individuals with limited manual dexterity may have a service animal retrieve or pick up objects for them.


When interacting with people who use service animals, consider the following tips:


·     Avoid petting or touching a service animal while the animal is working.


·     Do not feed a service animal or distract a service animal in any way.


·     Do not separate an individual with a disability from his or her service animal.


·     If the service animal misbehaves, or becomes out of the control of the person with the disability, that person is obligated to control the animal.


·     The U.S. Department of Justice authored a brochure about service animals that may be helpful in answering questions regarding service animals in Georgia courts. It is available online at:


















Establishing a Disability/Accommodation Protocol




Developing a protocol to handle disability accommodation requests is necessary to ensure that all Georgians have an equal opportunity to participate in court activities. A disability protocol in each court should establish a single point of contact for requests as well as guidance for providing accommodations in a timely manner.



To ensure a truly equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in court proceedings, it is necessary to acknowledge and address particular barriers they often face. Consider someone who is blind and wants to visit a court system’s website for information concerning a particular case.  If the website is not designed to properly interface with that individual’s own assistive technology, there is no meaningful opportunity to utilize that court service. Likewise, an individual who is deaf may need a sign language interpreter or alternative method to  effectively communicate during a particular proceeding. Without the appropriate accommodation, the opportunity to fully and equally participate in any genuine way will have been denied.


Accordingly, it is sometimes necessary to take additional steps, such as developing an accessible court website or provide a sign language interpreter for that proceeding, to ensure a truly meaningful equal opportunity to participate. Making a web site available, like structurally altering a building or installing an assistive listening system to improve accessibility, creates accessibility for significant numbers of people with varying disabilities. Moreover, once accomplished, these types of actions generally only require periodic maintenance of their accessible features.


Conversely, providing a sign language interpreter, like other individualized accommodation requests, involves a case-by-case assessment to determine the appropriate course of action. Under the ADA, only qualified individuals with ADA disabilities are eligible for individualized accommodations when necessary to ensure an equal opportunity to participate. If a particular accommodation is indeed necessary, the court cannot pass any associated cost on to the individual.


Court systems should develop and implement a protocol for addressing individualized requests. A protocol enables the court to:


·     utilize resource information for addressing common accommodation requests;


·     demonstrate to individuals with disabilities that their requests are being considered;



·     methodically evaluate accommodation requests, without creating unnecessary administrative demands on busy court personnel that often result from unexpected requests.




Developing the Accommodation Protocol


A protocol should include the following steps:


Step 1:  Identify and train a contact person for disability-related matters.


Designating a knowledgeable contact person is perhaps the most important step towards achieving compliance with the law. Counties and municipalities that employ 50 or more persons are required to designate a “responsible person” (often referred to as the “ADA coordinator”) to coordinate compliance efforts and investigate any complaints. Courts in smaller cities and counties may consider designating the city or county ADA coordinator to handle issues involving courts while larger court systems should consider appointing their own contact person.  The court’s contact person for disability issues performs four important roles:


·     Public Point of Contact: Provides a single point of contact for people with disabilities who need accommodations to access court services. Identifying the contact person in public notices and publications allows individuals with disabilities to contact one person with the knowledge and responsibility to handle accommodation requests.


·     Information Dissemination: Serves as a central resource on disability issues for judges, administrators, bailiffs, clerks, other courtroom personnel and citizens with disabilities. The contact person should be familiar with the court’s responsibilities under the law and should have access to the resources needed to respond to inquiries and accommodation requests.



·     Effective Communication: Knows how to access auxiliary aids and services to promote effective communication.


·     Support: Provides training and technical assistance for court employees in responding to requests for accommodation; instructs employees on disability awareness issues.




Step 2:  Involve people with disabilities and disability-related organizations in proactively identifying potential and existing access barriers. Effective outreach will help educate the disability community on court programs, services and activities as well as provide feedback to court personnel on ways to improve their customer service.


Step 3:  Establish a procedure for evaluating accommodation requests in a timely manner.


A well-drafted accommodation procedure should:



·     evaluate cases and circumstances on an individualized, case-by-case basis as expeditiously as possible;


·     be flexible and eliminate unnecessary levels of review where possible. Court employees may receive impromptu requests, such as a request to escort a person who is blind to the appropriate courtroom, and the employees should be empowered to handle these requests;


·     maintain the confidentiality of medical information;


·     track all accommodation requests including those requests that cannot be fulfilled and the process used to reach each of those decisions; and


·     maintain a resource and technical support database for disability-related issues that arise.


Appendix B contains a model form courts may utilize to process accommodation requests.


Step 4:  Educate  all courtroom personnel  on the court’s accessibility features  and accommodation protocol.


Step 5:  Notify the public regarding the court’s accommodation process.


The court is required to provide information about its ADA-related responsibilities to all interested persons. Courts can disseminate information about their disability accommodation processes, including the name of the contact person, in several ways. For example, a court could provide information about accommodation requests on its website, in its court rules, in juror summons and in information pamphlets.  Courts should also provide notice to individuals with disabilities about the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination and their rights under the law.


Step 6:  Implement a Grievance Procedure


Courts must adopt and publish a grievance procedure for  the prompt and equitable resolution of ADA-related complaints. The grievance procedure may be included in existing grievance procedures adopted by the court for any other purpose. The ADA provides a great deal of latitude in this area, meaning that courts may choose to adopt alternative dispute resolution processes, such as third-party mediation, in their grievance procedures. Appendix C contains

a sample grievance procedure.



















Removing Common Barriers to Access




Equally Effective Communication


Because so much of court business involves communicating information, effective communication is one of the most important and challenging responsibilities for Georgia Courts. When courts do not communicate effectively with people with disabilities, it can have a serious detrimental effect on the administration of justice.



Communication includes the exchange of information in all forms, including voice, sound, print, and electronic and information technology. Georgia courts should be aware of the types of disabilities that impact effective communication as well as the auxiliary aids and services that are often necessary to ensure effective communication.


To ensure an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to participate in the courtroom, it is necessary to acknowledge and remove the communication barriers people with disabilities often face.  Disabilities that may affect an individual’s ability to effectively communicate with the court include:


·     Hearing

·     Speech

·     Vision

·     Cognition


The court should assess each situation on an individualized, case-by-case basis, to determine if the court needs to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with people with disabilities. Examples of auxiliary aids and services used to accommodate people with disabilities are:


·     Assistive listening devices

·     Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)

·     Qualified sign language interpreters

·     Telecommunications relay services

·     Alternate formats for printed materials

·     Accessible Internet sites


In selecting an auxiliary aid or service, courts should:


·     Give primary consideration to the aid or service preferred by the individual because that individual is usually best able to identify the communication barriers that hamper participation.


·     Allow people the opportunity to use their own assistive technology products to achieve effective communication. For example, a person with cerebral palsy who has difficulty with speech may use an augmentative communication device. Denying a person the opportunity to use such a device would deny effective communication. However, a court is not required to purchase such a device for a person with a disability who does not already have the device.


·     Consider the context in which the communication is taking place and its importance:


o If a plaintiff who is deaf requests a sign language interpreter for a scheduling hearing, it may be possible to provide effective communication through

written notes, provided the plaintiff understands written English, the hearing is

brief, the plaintiff is represented by counsel and the plaintiff is able to participate effectively in the hearing.


o However, when the information being communicated is complex or lengthy, (for example a hearing to determine child custody), and the plaintiff who is deaf uses sign language to communicate, a qualified sign language interpreter is necessary for effective communication.


A court is not required to provide the requested aid or service if there is another equally effective means of communication available, or if the requested aid or service would result in a fundamental alteration in the service, program, or activity, or in undue financial or administrative burdens.


A court may not pass along to a person with a disability the cost of the aid or service in the form of a surcharge.



Auxiliary Aids and Services



Assistive Listening Systems



Assistive Listening Systems (ALS) are “binoculars for the ears.” They increase the loudness of specific sounds and bring sounds directly into the ear. In addition, ALS “stretch” hearing aids and cochlear implants by improving their effectiveness in environments that are noisy, have poor acoustics, and when there is a big distance from the speaker. ALS can utilize FM, infrared, or inductive loop technologies. All three technologies are considered good, and each one has advantages and disadvantages.


Infrared systems guarantee privacy and are the appropriate choice for situations such as court proceedings that require confidentiality. Infrared systems work by transmitting sound via

light waves in a 60-degree cone to receivers worn by users. Thus, the system is restricted to the room in which the equipment is installed. With the exception of high frequency lights and

bright sunlight, there are few sources of interference with infrared systems.


Like all ALS, each infrared system has at least three components: a microphone, a transmission technology, and a device for receiving the signal and bringing the sound to the ear. New Access Board ADA standards require receivers to have a jack to plug in a neckloop or a cochlear implant patch cord.


If a courtroom already has a microphone and a public address system for hearing people, it should be simple to patch in an infrared system. If a courtroom does not have a public address system, consideration should be given to the number of microphones to provide and who will use the microphones. Wireless microphones can be used with any system, thereby simplifying running cables around the courtroom. However, if security is an issue, wireless microphones are not secure.


ALS should also be considered for the jury room. Small, portable infrared systems are available with multiple microphones in addition to a table-mounted conference microphone.


Some microphones should have a mute switch, such as those used on the bench when a judge calls up attorneys for a private conversation.


Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) Services



Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is a word-for-word speech-to-text service for people who require communication access. People who are deaf, late-deafened, hard of hearing or who have cochlear implants benefit from CART because it provides a text display of speech that occurs in the courtroom. A CART provider uses a steno machine, notebook computer and Realtime software to render instant speech-to-text translation on a computer monitor or other display media for an individual or group.


The National Court Reporters Association provides recommended procedures regarding the provision of CART in courts. These recommended best practice procedures can be reviewed online at:



Sign Language Interpreters


If it is necessary to utilize a sign language interpreter to facilitate effective communication,

the ADA requires that the interpreter must be qualified. Being able to sign does not equate to

being able to interpret. Someone who does not possess all the necessary interpreting skills to process spoken language into equivalent sign language and to process sign language into equivalent spoken language cannot provide effective communication. Therefore, a state or local court employee who can “sign pretty wellis not qualified to provide effective communication.


Since there are a number of sign language systems (signed English and American Sign Language are the most prevalent) used by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, individuals who use a particular system may not communicate effectively through an interpreter using a different system. Therefore, when an interpreter is required, state and local courts should provide a qualified interpreter who is able to equivalently interpret using the same sign system as the individual who is deaf.


A qualified interpreter must be able to interpret both receptively and expressively in sign language and in spoken English and must do so effectively, accurately and impartially, using any specialized vocabulary necessary. Additionally, Georgia law requires that a sign language interpreter be certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.  in particular proceedings. See Appendix D for the Sign Language Interpreter’s Code of Ethics from The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.


Under the ADA, it is the responsibility of state and local courts to provide a qualified interpreter. State and local courts may not require individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to provide their own interpreters. The obligation to provide impartial interpreting

services requires that, upon request, state and local courts provide an interpreter who does not have a personal relationship to the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing. In most situations, allowing friends or family members to interpret is inappropriate because their presence may violate the right to confidentiality or because a friend or family member may have an interest in the proceeding that is different from that of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing.


It is often necessary to employ more than one interpreter during proceedings that are lengthy or complex. See Appendix D, Sign Language Interpreters in the Courtroom, for additional information for Georgia courts.





Text Telephone (TTY)



Text telephone is a generic term for devices that provide access to real-time telephone communications for persons with hearing or speech impairments. Text telephones are also known as TTYs and TDDs (telecommunications devices for deaf persons). Like computers with modems, text telephones provide keyboards for typing conversations and visual displays for callers and receiving parties who are connected over standard telephone lines.


A call from one text telephone can only be received by another--and compatible--text telephone. The devices, however, can be used by and between both hearing and non-hearing persons. Two-way communications between individuals who use text telephones and those who do not is accomplished through 24-hour operator-assisted telecommunications relay services.


A court purchasing a TTY should include the dedicated TTY phone number on all court publications where the court’s main telephone number is listed. If a court provides public telephone service, it should consider purchasing a TTY device for public use.  If the court does not provide a public TTY, it should provide people with disabilities access to the court’s TTY device on request.


The U.S. Access Board has a helpful, on-line guide on using a TTY: http://www.access-




Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS)



Georgia courts can communicate with people who have difficulty using a telephone by using Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS). TRS enables standard voice telephone users to talk to people who have difficulty hearing or speaking on the telephone. TRS uses operators, called communications assistants, to facilitate the making of telephone calls by people who have difficulty hearing or speaking and who use assistive technology devices such as text telephones (TTY). Relay services are managed by the Georgia Relay program, administered under the Public Service Commission.


There are several types of TRS available. Any of these may be initiated by an individual with a hearing or speech disability, or by a conventional telephone user:


·     Text to Voice TRS - A person using a TTY dials 7-1-1 to access an operator who places the call.  The operator then relays the conversation by transmitting the text from the TTY

display to the recipient through speech, and by transmitting the voice of the recipient to the

TTY caller through text. Relay callers are not limited in the type, length, or nature of their

calls. The TRS operator is bound by a confidentiality requirement not to disclose the

content of any TRS call.  Courts should train employees who are responsible for making and

answering phone calls about the TRS system so they can communicate effectively with people using the system. When employees answer the phone and hear, "Hello, this is the relay service. Have you received a relay call before? the employee should not hang up. They are about to talk to a person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing or has a speech disability.


·     Voice Carry Over (VCO) TRS - VCO TRS enables a person who is hard of hearing but who wants to use his or her own voice, to speak directly to the receiving party and to receive responses in text form through the operator. No typing is required by the calling or the called party. This service is particularly useful to people who have lost their hearing but who can still speak.


·     Hearing Carry Over (HCO) TRS - HCO TRS enables a person with a speech disability to type his or her part of the conversation on a TTY. The operator reads these words to the called party and the caller hears responses directly from the other party.


·     Speech-to-Speech Relay (STS) - With STS, a person with a speech disability uses an operator specially trained in understanding a variety of speech disorders. The operator repeats what the caller says in a manner that makes the caller's words clear and understandable. No special telephone is needed for this option.


·     Video Relay Services (VRS) VRS enables individuals who use sign language to make relay calls through operators who can interpret their calls. The caller signs to the operator with the use of video equipment and the operator voices what is signed to the called party and signs back to the caller. This type of relay service is offered on a voluntary basis by certain TRS programs. This option is helpful for people who use American Sign Language (ASL), and for people who cannot type on a TTY easily.


Georgia Relay also provides for people to make relay calls over the Internet through its website at


Public Service Announcements



Courts may choose televised public service announcements to transmit messages to local residents. For example, the court may fund a message for broadcast on television stations about the local Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program or may show a short orientation videotape to prospective jurors. In any multimedia production, courts should consider providing captions for any spoken content so that people who are deaf or hard of hearing can access the content.


There are two different types of captioning available. Open captioning displays the captions directly on the screen where all viewers can readily see the captions. The subtitles on foreign language movies are a form of open captioning. While open captions can be effective for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, the hearing population also relies on the captions in noisy venues such as airports, health clubs and restaurants. However, open captioning can also be distracting for some viewers. Thus, closed captioning provides coded captions that

are embedded in the video. Televisions manufactured after 1993 have a caption decoder chip that decodes the captioned video.


If courts work with a production company to create a video, it should be captioned. Most production companies have the capability to provide either open or closed captions on request. If the video is to be displayed in the courtroom, the court should be sure that the television where the video is to be displayed is equipped with closed captioning and that courtroom personnel have the training to set closed captioning options on request.


Another possible solution for courts without the funding to provide closed captioning is to present the video on a split-screen. The content of the video would be shown on one half of the screen, while a sign-language interpreter would interpret the spoken words on the other half of the screen. While this is a low-cost approach, it may not be as effective as captioning for long videos, or for persons who are hard of hearing and do not understand sign language.


Alternate Document Formats


People with disabilities that affect their ability to read print may request print materials in alternate formats. Common examples of alternate formats include:


·     Audiotape: Courts should make sure that any audiotape versions of documents are recorded in a way that is clear and understandable.


·     Braille: Braille uses a system of raised dots to represent letters. Documents in Braille are embossed onto heavy paper and read by touch. A court may choose to purchase a Braille embosser and the necessary software to translate electronic documents into Braille, but it may be more convenient to contract this work out to an expert in Braille printing. Because the majority of people who are blind do not use Braille, however, it should not be the only type of alternate format provided.


·     Electronic Files:  Courts can use either a floppy disk or a CD-ROM to deliver electronic copies of documents depending on the technology needs of the person making the request. Documents should be saved on disk either in text format (.txt extension) or in Microsoft Rich Text Format (.rtf) extension unless the person requests a specific file format.


·     Large Print: The minimum size for creating large-print documents is 18-point font, which can be easily produced on most word processors. However, a person with low vision may request a larger font. If the document is not available electronically, use the enlarging features on a copier to provide large print.




Accessible Websites



Increasingly, electronic and information technology is the medium for the exchange of information. Many people with disabilities use “assistive technology” to enable them to use computers and access the Internet. People who are blind and cannot see computer monitors may use screen readers devices that speak the text that would normally appear on a monitor.

People who have mobility impairments and experience difficulty using a computer mouse can use voice recognition software to control their computers with verbal commands. People with other disabilities may use still other kinds of assistive technology.


As it becomes more common to provide public services over the Internet, courts should be aware of potential barriers that people with disabilities face in accessing their Internet sites. Many researchers draw a parallel to the design of accessible buildings and the design of accessible websites. In both instances, making just a few changes can make the building or the website more accessible to people with disabilities. However, the changes that need to be made to an Internet site are less expensive and more easily implemented than installing a ramp or widening a door. Designers may not realize how simple features built into a web page will assist someone who, for instance, cannot see a computer monitor or use a mouse. Creating accessible Internet sites only appears more complicated because most people are not familiar with the computer code used to create websites.


An example of a barrier is a photograph of a courthouse on a court’s website with no text identifying it.  Because screen readers cannot interpret images unless there is text associated with it, a blind person would have no way of knowing whether the image is an unidentified photo or logo, artwork, a link to another page, or something else. Simply adding a line of hidden computer code to label the photograph “Photograph of County Courthouse” will allow the blind user to make sense of the image.


Technology offers tremendous potential for Georgia courts to provide more effective services. The U.S. Department of Justice suggests the following voluntary action plan for providing accessible websites:


·      Establish a policy that your web pages will be accessible and create a process for implementation.


·      Ensure that all new and modified web pages and content are accessible:


Check the HTML of all new web pages. Make sure that accessible elements are used, including alt tags, long descriptions, and captions, as needed.

If images are used, including photos, graphics, scanned images, or image maps, make sure to include alt tags and/or long descriptions for each.


If you use online forms and tables, make those elements accessible.

When posting documents on the website, always provide them in HTML or a text-based format (even if you are also providing them in another format, such as Portable Document Format (PDF)).


·      Develop a plan for making your existing web content more accessible. Describe your plan on an accessible web page. Encourage input on improvements, including which pages should be given high priority for change. Let citizens know about the standards or guidelines that are being used. Consider making the more popular web pages a priority.



·      Ensure that in-house staff and contractors responsible for web page and content development are properly trained.


·      Provide a way for visitors to request accessible information or services by posting a telephone number or E-mail address on your home page. Establish procedures to assure a quick response to users with disabilities who are trying to obtain information or services in this way.


·      Periodically enlist disability groups to test your pages for ease of use; use this information to increase accessibility.



A U.S. Department of Justice publication, “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities”, explains many of the issues involved in creating accessible websites. The publication is available online at the Department of Justice website




Persons who have Mental or Cognitive Disabilities



One of the most difficult matters Georgia courts face in accommodating persons with disabilities is in the area of mental illness or cognitive disability. Cognition refers to "understanding," the ability to comprehend what you see and hear and the ability to infer information from social cues and "body language." People with these impairments may have trouble learning new things, making generalizations from one situation to another and expressing themselves through spoken or written language. Cognitive limitations of varying degrees can often be found in people who have been classified in school as learning disabled, mentally retarded, autistic or who have been diagnosed as having a head injury or Down Syndrome.


Because the issues facing individuals with mental illness or cognitive disability often touch

on basic rights, especially for criminal defendants, it is difficult to address them effectively in the scope of this handbook. What follows are three basic steps Georgia courts can take in their efforts to ensure that people with mental or cognitive disabilities have equal access to justice.


In many cases, courts must first determine whether an individual is a “qualified individual with a disability under the ADA.  For a criminal defendant, this will usually be a determination of whether the individual is competent to stand trial. In other situations involving a person with a mental disability appearing as a witness or as a potential juror, the court must determine whether or not that individual can carry out his or her duties in a courtroom. For example, if an individual is unable to understand testimony as a juror because of mental retardation, or if an individual disrupts the courtroom frequently as a spectator because of behavioral problems or delusions, those individuals are not “qualified” and can be excluded from the courtroom. However, it is important to remember that mental retardation or a traumatic brain injury will not always leave individuals unqualified to serve as witnesses, spectators or jurors.  Courts should conduct an individualized inquiry to determine whether an individual is “qualified.”


Courts must next determine whether it is possible to provide reasonable accommodations for an individual with mental or cognitive disabilities without a fundamental alteration of court programs and services. Keep in mind that many people with mental or cognitive

impairments may not be able to request accommodations effectively and may need assistance in constructing appropriate accommodation requests, whether from the court or from their legal representatives.


The third step is determining whether an individual with a mental or cognitive disability poses a “direct threat” to himself or others in the courtroom. The ADA requires Georgia courts to make a knowing, individualized determination not based on myth, fear or stereotype of whether an individual poses a threat, and to consider any possible, available accommodations for this threat. Courts may choose to exclude individuals who pose a threat but only in a manner consistent with their civil rights and other protections.




Facility Access


Existing Facilities



If a courthouse is inaccessible, because doorways are too narrow, restroom facilities are inaccessible, or steps are the only way to get to all or portions of a facility, people with mobility, visual, and hearing impairments may not be able to fully participate in jury duty, attend hearings, and gain access to other services. Title II of the ADA calls on state and local courts to ensure that their programs, services and activities are accessible to people with disabilities, even if located in older buildings, unless to do so would fundamentally alter a program, service, or activity or result in undue financial or administrative burdens. This requirement is called program access.


Program access may be achieved by a number of methods. While in many situations providing access to facilities through structural methods, such as alteration of existing facilities and acquisition or construction of additional facilities, may be the most efficient method, a court system may pursue alternatives to structural changes in order to achieve the necessary access. The court can:


·     relocate the program or activity to an accessible facility;


·     provide the activity or service in another manner that meets ADA requirements; or

·     make modifications to the building or facility itself to provide accessibility. However, when choosing among available methods of providing program accessibility, the

court must give priority to those methods that offer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate. The Department of Justice ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual includes the following illustration:


D, a defendant in a civil suit, has a respiratory condition that prevents her from climbing steps. Civil suits are routinely heard in a courtroom on the second floor