Equitable Access to Justice

This new courtroom has timber backed seats and a long timber desk that seats the justices. A abstract painting covers the wall behind the bench. Daylight comes in through large windows.Justice systems and courthouses are scary at the best of times – even when you haven’t done anything wrong. The processes and places are foreign to most of us. Interacting with the justice system is very stressful – even more so for people with any kind of disability. It’s the same for people who come from a migrant community. 

The newly published guidelines for access to justice for persons with disabilities is available on the United Nations Human Rights web page. It gives the background and a summary of the consultation process. The title of the document is, International Principles and Guidelines on Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities. The document was developed in collaboration with disability rights experts, advocacy organisations, states, academics and other practitioners. 

There are ten principles, each with a set of guidelines for action:

Principle 1  All persons with disabilities have legal capacity and, therefore, no one shall be denied access to justice on the basis of disability.

Principle 2  Facilities and services must be universally accessible to ensure equal access to justice without discrimination of persons with disabilities.

Principle 3  Persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, have the right to appropriate procedural accommodations.

Principle 4  Persons with disabilities have the right to access legal notices and information in a timely and accessible manner on an equal basis with others.

Principle 5  Persons with disabilities are entitled to all substantive and procedural safeguards recognized in international law on an equal basis with others, and States must provide the necessary accommodations to guarantee due process.

Principle 6  Persons with disabilities have the right to free or affordable legal assistance. 

Principle 7 Persons with disabilities have the right to participate in the administration of justice on an equal basis with others. 

Principle 8  Persons with disabilities have the rights to report complaints and initiate legal proceedings concerning human rights violations and crimes, have their complaints investigated and be afforded effective remedies. 

Principle 9  Effective and robust monitoring mechanisms play a critical role in supporting access to justice for persons with disabilities. 

Principle 10  All those working in the justice system must be provided with awareness-raising and training programmes addressing the rights of persons with disabilities, in particular in the context of access to justice.

Brisbane court room showing the glass surround for the defendant dock and a short steep ramp to the doorway.

The picture at the top is from the Brisbane Supreme Court showing a large abstract mural behind the Judges’ bench. The picture at the bottom is an attempt to make the defendant dock wheelchair accessible. 

 

Who do designers design for?

Four women and one man sit casually around a table where there are coloured pens and drawings.Who does the designing and what do they design? If the design works, users don’t think about the designer. But when the design works poorly, or not at all, the designer becomes the focus. “What were they thinking?” is the catch-cry. In spite of much research and literature on designing thoughtfully and inclusively, we still have a long way to go. 

A short paper takes a critical look at five design approaches from last century that remain current. The author discusses “Accessible” in terms of partial inclusion and design afterthoughts. “Inclusive/Universal Design” is discussed from the perspective of eliminating disability rather than embracing diversity. Six degrees of “User-Centred Design” is the focus of this design approach where users get a say in the design. An extension of user-centred design is “Participatory Design” which is also a learning experience for designers. Lastly, “Emancipatory Design” is praised for being empowering for people with disability.

The title of the short paper is, Design Methodologies and Ethos in Disability: Research Snapshot.

Editor’s Note: The Universal Design movement is often accused of wanting to design out disability. Perhaps this view can be tracked back to the mistaken interpretation of universal as “one-size-fits-all”. The concept of universal design in the context of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is very much one of inclusion, equity and acceptance of diversity. 

From the Introduction: The subject of design is one that dominates the disability literature. Throughout the past number of years, there has been a push among researchers and advocates to think critically about the ways in which design is executed and by whom. Design has taken on a central role in the ‘normalization’ of disability. Each of these design methodologies and ethos has had an essential impact on built and design environments; however, there is still a considerable need for progress. Importantly, these design methodologies and ethos bring to light the significance of understanding that in today’s society, it is normative that environments and technologies are designed for people with disabilities, not by people with disabilities. 

 

Smart City: Dream or Nightmare?

A city skyline at night against a backdrop of a computer circuitry board. Smart cities are talked about as a good thing, but can we be sure where they are leading us? This promised land with sustainability, connectivity and optimisation, might have a human rights cost. An interesting point from Amnesty International. 

On the one hand we have a model for inclusive urban growth with jobs and green credentials. On the other, community groups say this as a contest between surveillance capitalism and democracy. This is the point of an article by two tech people at Amnesty International.

The authors discuss the growth of smart cities and the Internet of Things.  The connectivity of devices and people and the wonders of inventions seems like Utopia. But a lot of data is being collected and this is where the threat to human rights emerges. They argue that human rights must be put at the centre of development plans for smart cities. Otherwise the Big Tech companies will be empowered even more.

It’s good to see these issues being raised. People who are marginalised could be even further disadvantaged. The title of the article is Smart Cities: dreams capable of become nightmares. There are links to further articles on the topic.

 

Who thought of kerb cuts?

A concrete kerb ramp with yellow tactile markers on the slope.Who thought of footpath kerb cuts? 30 years ago policy makers couldn’t understand why anyone needed kerb cuts in footpaths. “Why would anyone need kerb cuts – we never see people with disability on the streets”. This is part of the history of disability rights that we rarely think about these days. But kerb cuts didn’t happen because of policy – they happened because people took matters into their own hands. And accessibility eventually shaped the streets.

Stories of activists pouring concrete on kerbs have made their way into urban legends. It is sometimes referred to as the “Curb Cut Revolution”. (Note the American spelling. In Australia we call them kerb ramps.) It was the beginning of a turning point for accessibility.

Of course, the injustice is not evident to those who are perhaps inconvenienced but not excluded. And it’s not just about wheelchair users. Anyone using a wheeled device: delivery trolley, pram, bicycle or luggage knows the value of the kerb cut. They’ve also benefited from the other accessibility features in the built environment. That’s how the term “universal design” was coined – good for wheelchair users, good for everyone. 

The Forgotten History of How Accessible Design Reshaped the Streets is a nicely written blog article. It provides an interesting context to what we know now as access standards. But compliance to legislation does not guarantee inclusion. It only provides access. That’s why we still need universal design thinking.

The Universal Design Movement goes back to the 1970s and it’s still going. That’s because every improvement for inclusion is hard won. The article has a great quote:

“When injustice is tied up with the physical spaces of cities and the policies that create them, it becomes difficult to assign responsibility for it – and hence difficult to change.”

The article is from Bloomberg CityLab. 

Inclusive Courts Checklist

This new courtroom has timber backed seats and a long timber desk that seats the justices. A abstract painting covers the wall behind the bench. Daylight comes in through large windows.Courts and justice systems across the world are going through a digital transformation. It’s happening behind the scenes and up front. But are these systems and processes inclusive?  A survey in 2018 revealed that court administrators don’t know about the advances in inclusive solutions. With the current pandemic, reliance on technology has increased. So this matter is more urgent now.

Technology is making it easier for court staff. For example, their payment and filing processes. But we run the risk of making it more difficult for people who find themselves the subject of court processes. The survey by G3ict and International Disability Alliance revealed that people with disability face significant barriers in the justice system – digital and non-digital. As a result of this survey, G3ict has come up with an Inclusive Courts Checklist. It lists 10 Core Capabilities and related Enabling Activities.

The ten core capabilities include, a digital inclusion strategy, leadership, budgeting, and a culture of inclusive engagement, diversity and transparency. The checklist provides a short overview of the issues and the survey, and the checklist is presented as a table. The checklist is on the G3ict website where you can find more useful publications.

Elements of this checklist apply to other organisations that are moving to digital processes and practices. This checklist has a focus on people with disability, but could equally apply to people from diverse backgrounds and to people who have little or no experience of digital applications.

 

Easy Read COVID-19

A poster with three graphics. One of a rugby goal post, one of a calendar with the start date marked, and one showing a television set.Access Easy English has fact sheets and posters on staying COVID-safe. As each state changes their rules a new fact sheet is produced. That makes a lot of fact sheets and posters. They cover sport, schools, travelling interstate, quarantine, childcare and more. 

Each state has its own set of fact sheets that you can download in both Word and PDF. Here are some examples:

Come to South Australia explains who can and who cannot go to South Australia.

We can go out. ACT explains when it started and the number of people you are allowed to meet up with.

The website also has information on Easy Read and Easy English on the home page. With more than 40% of the Australian population with low literacy skills, easy to understand information is vital for everyone. Even people with good literacy skills! 

 

Dementia design and equality

An older woman with white hair holds a bouquet of flowers to her face. Her eyes indicate she is smiling.People with dementia are not always seen as having the same human rights as other people with disability. So design for dementia is often viewed as an added extra to existing disability requirements. To help facilitate a better understanding, the World Health Organization published a guide on human rights and dementia. An article from the UK builds on these issues and provides recommendations for policy, practice and research. 

The title of the article is, Accessible design and dementia: A neglected space in the equality debate.

The article can be accessed from Sage Journals, but you’ll need institutional access, and via ResearchGate where you can ask for a free copy of the paper.

Abstract: This paper addresses the issue of accessible design in the context of dementia. It is not difficult to design buildings and outside spaces for people with dementia but you do have to follow clear design principles and values. However, unlike other disabilities, accessible dementia design is still viewed as an added extra and not a vital component of facilitating citizenship. In 2015, the World Health Organisation published guidance on human rights and dementia. People living with dementia are frequently denied their human rights even when regulations are in place to uphold them. This paper will focus on accessible design from a human rights perspective using the PANEL principles. PANEL stands for Participation, Accountability, Non-Discrimination and Equality, Empowerment and Legality. We will then conclude with recommendations for policy, practice and research to ensure that accessible design for people living with dementia does not continue to be a neglected space in the equality debate.

What does Inclusion really mean?

“Inclusion” is a word used widely, but what do we mean by this? How does it happen? Who makes it happen? Given that we are not inclusive now, it has to be a futuristic concept – something we are striving for. If we had achieved it we would be talking about inclusiveness, and we wouldn’t be writing policies and advocating for it.

Picture of a slide with key points on inclusion.A conference paper discusses what we mean by inclusion and it illustrates why it is hard to achieve. The difference between inclusion and inclusiveness is more than semantics. They have different perspectives and ask different questions. Inclusion relies on one group looking at another group and inviting them in. It maintains a language of separation, for example, accessible, disabled, elderly and design-for-all. Inclusiveness looks at everyone equally and supports a whole population approach. Economic arguments and solutions are viewed differently. Inclusiveness is not a contest of rights and not one group giving something to others. All costs and benefits are measured from this perspective. 

The key concepts are captured in a PDF of a PowerPoint presentation and the full paper is titled, Turning Back Time for Today as Well as Tomorrow available on ResearchGate. 

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes discusses similar concepts. 

Autism and the social model of disability

A young woman sits on a boardwalk next to water. She has her knees drawn up and is resting her head on her arms and knees. It depicts a level of loneliness or sadness.People who are neurodiverse often struggle to shed the medical model of disability others apply to them. A medical diagnosis is part of the problem – they become a category, a label. This is particularly the case for people with autism. And there are no two people alike. But what they do share in common is a relatively high suicide rate. Why would this be the case?

A paper by Richard Woods explores how the social model of disability can be, and should be, applied to this group. But it might not be enough. Negative language is a major barrier to inclusion based on the medical diagnosis label. Woods goes on to argue that the social model does not always explain how any disability is experienced by individuals. This is particularly relevant to people who are neurodiverse. Categorisation under a label is limiting and does nothing to shift community attitudes and improve individuals’ mental health. In conclusion, the paper calls for the “full emancipation of the autistic population”. An interesting read.

The title of the paper is, Exploring how the social model of disability can be reinvigorated: in response to Jonathan Levitt

Abstract.  Levitt argues the social model of disability needs to be re-invigorated, potentially by adapting the tool for separate countries. The social model has been successfully applied for some disabled groups in the United Kingdom. However, the social model is not implemented for neurodivergent labels such as autism, through negative language of autism, causing severe problems for autistic individuals’ daily lives. The social model can be re-invigorated for autism, removing social barriers by; changing non-autistic people’s attitudes towards autism through ensuring positive language of autism, preventing the categorisation of autism and fully enacting The Autism Act 2009 and The Equality 2010.

Universal design and talking human rights

A girl holds up a sign that says, Love not Hate. She appears to be sitting on the shoulders of someone in a public street march.Universal design isn’t just or only about disability. But it does have a major role to play in improving the lives of people with disability. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, cites universal design as the way to gain inclusion and equity. So does Australia’s National Disability Strategy. But discussions and actions on human rights often get diverted by politics and ideologies. The way we frame and word our responses can make a big difference in cutting through. But what words and what frame?

A Brilliant Way of Living our Lives: How to Talk about Human Rights by Anat Shenker-Osorio has some good answers and examples. The first part of the document looks at messaging pitfalls and fixes. The second part of the document looks at words that work, and the third part covers common critiques. Here is Shenker-Osorio’s introduction to the document:

“Using language data from advocacy, opposition, political speech and popular culture, I analyzed why certain messages resonate where others falter in the human rights sector in Australia, the UK and the US. Complementing this written discourse were 53 interviews with advocates in these three countries in order to draw out what we wish people believed – the vision for which we’d like to inspire increased activation from present supporters and persuade new ones. Recommendations
here also draw upon previous research and empirical testing across issues related to human rights.”

This article was featured in a longer piece on The Commons Social Change Library. It covers a long list of issues for advocates for all kinds of social change.

Editor’s note:  It is worth noting the change in public attitude in the same sex marriage campaign. It gained momentum when it moved from the right to marry whoever you want to being about marrying the person you love. In that vein, universal design is about the people we love.