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Making Ontario's Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities [Report of Courts Disabilities Committee]
Table of Contents
Just like everyone else, persons with disabilities may be involved in court proceedings as parties, lawyers, judges, witnesses, jurors or members of the public. However, because of their disability they may not be able to access what they need to participate fully in those proceedings. Ontario legislation requires this province, including its court system, to become fully accessible before January 1, 2025. To assist in achieving this goal the Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, Chief Justice of Ontario, established the Courts’ Disabilities Committee. This is our report.
In our report we describe
2. Executive Summary
In 2005, the Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, Chief Justice of Ontario, appointed this advisory committee drawn from the bench, bar and Ontario Government, to develop recommendations to make Ontario’s court system more accessible for persons with mental, physical or sensory disabilities. This report is the product of our Committee’s work. It is the result of extensive research as well as formal and informal consultations with key participants in the justice system, such as the judiciary, the legal profession, and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
It is fundamentally important for the court system to be fully accessible to persons with disabilities taking part as litigants, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, judges, court services workers or courtroom spectators. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, human rights legislation and sound public policy require accessible courts. Despite laudable piecemeal efforts on a local or ad hoc basis, much remains to be done to make the justice system responsive to the needs of persons with disabilities. Two new Ontario statutes provide for public sector planning and other coordinated activities to make public institutions, like courts, accessible to persons with disabilities.
A fully accessible court system is one in which persons with disabilities can fully participate. In it, existing barriers to access are identified and removed along reasonable time lines. No new barriers are created. Disability accommodations are efficiently provided in a timely fashion. Members of the public can easily find out how to get needed accommodations.
Currently, Ontario has many barriers that impede access to the court system by persons with physical, mental or sensory disabilities. The survey we conducted identified, among others, these major types of barriers:
Attitudinal – Attitudinal barriers are perceptions and attitudes about people with disabilities. The survey responses indicated that too many persons involved in the justice system fail to understand how to accommodate persons with disabilities. At times, there is a lack of sensitivity exhibited towards persons with disabilities, and a lack of presumption of full participation in the justice system.
Communication – Communication barriers between persons with disabilities and the court system are experienced when persons with disabilities cannot interact with the various participants in the court system because of a lack of accommodation.
Informational – Informational barriers are the result of a lack of coordination within the court system. As a result, any available accommodations are difficult to access and find, and participants must seek solutions without the benefit of the knowledge and resources others already have.
Physical – Physical barriers prevent persons with physical disabilities from accessing the courthouse or the courtrooms themselves.
Sensory – Sensory barriers prevent people who are blind or deaf, or who have a severe vision or hearing impairment, from accessing court proceedings.
To address these barriers, the Committee therefore recommends that:
3. Our Committee's Appointment, Composition and Mandate
At Toronto’s official Opening of the Courts ceremony on January 5, 2005, the Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, Chief Justice of Ontario, announced during his annual address that he was appointing a committee including members of the bench, the legal profession and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, to develop recommendations on how to make Ontario’s courts more accessible to persons with disabilities. He stated:
Many people with disabilities are involved with the courts in various roles as litigants, witnesses, lawyers, jurors or as members of the public.
I am therefore pleased that the Ontario Government is launching a major new initiative with its proposed accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (Bill 118). The purpose of the bill is to develop and implement accessibility standards within reasonable time lines so that persons with disabilities can more readily be accommodated.
The judiciary is determined to play its part and we look forward to working with the Ontario Government and the bar in providing persons with disabilities better access to our justice facilities.
Some of our judges have already met with representatives of the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Chief Justices have agreed to designate a disability access and accommodation coordinator in each regional center.
A practice direction will be issued asking lawyers to let a court know if a party or witness needs accommodation, and potential jurors will be informed as to the availability of accommodation.
I also intend to establish a committee of representatives of the bench, bar, and the Ministry of the Attorney General to consider further steps that can be taken to more readily accommodate persons with disabilities.
In the following weeks, the Chief Justice appointed members to the Committee drawn from each level of Ontario’s courts, from the practicing legal profession, and from the Ontario Government’s Court Services Division, which is part of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. These individuals were selected because of their knowledge, experience and expertise. In our Committee deliberations leading to this report, we spoke and acted solely in our personal capacities. This report synthesizes the best advice our Committee could collectively offer.
4. How Our Committee Approached Its Task
As far as we understood, this was the first comprehensive bench/bar/government effort in Canada to develop recommendations to make the court system fully accessible to persons with disabilities.
The Committee’s work included:
We wanted our recommendations and our report to be focused, easily read and used. We wanted our report to be sufficiently detailed to extend beyond general principles to give helpful guidance for effective action.
In creating the recommendations, we balanced numerous policy considerations. First, we kept in mind limitations on expertise. Our members did not view themselves as equipped to address highly technical issues such as delineating the precise width that a courtroom door must be for persons using a wheelchair, walker or scooter. However, we felt equipped to affirm the need for all to be able to enter any courtroom, witness stand or jury box and to develop effective strategies to bring this about. Second, we recognized that people with disabilities are the best resource for learning about accessibility, accommodation, and the need for planning for accessibility. Third, we felt that coordinated planning across numerous organizations and over a period of time would be required to achieve a fully accessible court system. For a strategy to achieve a fully accessible court system to be effective, a comprehensive plan is needed to specify what steps need to be taken, by when, and by whom. Fourth, we were cognizant that all recommendations must maintain respect for judicial independence.
Additionally, we were aware that financial and staff resources are limited. Some of the our recommendations will cost very little. Others will have more significant costs. However, these costs can be spread over a period of time. The cost of making the court system accessible will have widespread benefits, both to persons with disabilities and to others. For example, when level access to courthouse doors is provided, parents pushing strollers, lawyers pulling wheeled bags, and persons delivering materials on rolling carts will all have easier access. Proper planning can significantly reduce the cost of achieving accessibility. Education materials, once developed, can be shared. Prioritizing needed accommodations into short, medium and long-term plans will ensure meaningful progress occurs relatively quickly.
We were aware of two previous studies that touched on some of this field of inquiry. The Report of the Task Force on Courthouse Facilities published by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2001 contained some assessment of the accessibility of courthouse facilities for persons with disabilities. The other report was an inquiry into the extent to which Ontarians with disabilities had meaningful access to legal services. In 1982, then Ontario Attorney General R. Roy McMurtry appointed then Ontario Family Court Judge Rosalie S. Abella to conduct the study. This was the first such government-appointed study in Canada . Judge Abella was charged to address the issue of access to legal services, not to the court system. However, many of the recommendations Judge Abella made twenty-three years ago remain valid today and yet have not been implemented. Those recommendations address increasingly important needs that ought to be met.
5. The Importance of a Fully Accessible Court System
For all members of the public, the court system is an essential institution. This is no less so for people with physical, mental and/or sensory disabilities.
Persons with disabilities continue to be significantly disadvantaged in Canada . They encounter many barriers when trying to gain access to the mainstream of Ontario life. In the Supreme Court’s seminal disability equality case, Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), the Court unanimously held at para. 56:
It is an unfortunate truth that the history of disabled persons in Canada is largely one of exclusion and marginalization. Persons with disabilities have too often been excluded from the labour force, denied access to opportunities for social interaction and advancement, subjected to invidious stereotyping and relegated to institutions. This historical disadvantage has to a great extent been shaped and perpetuated by the notion that disability is an abnormality or flaw. As a result, disabled persons have not generally been afforded the “equal concern, respect and consideration” that s. 15(1) of the Charter demands. Instead, they have been subjected to paternalistic attitudes of pity and charity, and their entrance into the social mainstream has been conditional upon their emulation of able-bodied norms. One consequence of these attitudes is the persistent social and economic disadvantage faced by the disabled. Statistics indicate that persons with disabilities, in comparison to non-disabled persons, have less education, are more likely to be outside the labour force, face much higher unemployment rates, and are concentrated at the lower end of the pay scale when employed [footnotes omitted].
Barriers to full access to the court system can work to the disadvantage of persons with disabilities when they try to take part in the court system as parties, witnesses, judges, lawyers, court staff, jurors, or spectators. For example, jury service is a fundamental part of citizenship in a democracy. Juries are supposed to be representative of the public and are expected to bring their diverse experiences and perspectives to the jury deliberation process. If persons with disabilities are systemically impeded from fully participating in jury service, this can deprive juries of the experience and perspectives of persons with disabilities.
An inaccessible court system impacts a significant portion of Ontario’s population. Injured plaintiffs who bring civil claims for their injuries are often persons with disabilities. People with disabilities can be disproportionately represented among crime victims. Under the Charter and the Ontario Human Rights Code, “disability” is defined very broadly and affects a large portion of the population. It is not limited to persons with physical mobility disabilities, such as those using wheelchairs. According to Statistics Canada, 13.5% of Ontarians or 1.5 million people in Ontario now have a physical, mental or sensory disability. Disability can eventually affect everyone, as everyone gets a disability if they live long enough. The same Statistics Canada survey found that 41% of people aged 65 and over have a disability. The overall percentage of persons with disabilities is expected to grow as our population ages.
The right of persons with disabilities to barrier-free access to important public institutions such as the court system is deeply anchored in Canadian law. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entrenches the constitutional right to be equal before and under the law and to enjoy the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination on grounds such as mental or physical disability. Section 14 of the Charter supplements this. It provides, among other things, that deaf persons involved in legal proceedings as parties or witnesses have the constitutional right to an interpreter. The Charter, like the common law, guarantees to every member of the public, whether they have a disability or not, the right to attend and observe open court proceedings. Augmenting the Charter, section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, a law which is near constitutional in stature, guarantees that everyone has the right to equal treatment with respect to services and facilities without discrimination because of disability.
The right to equality for persons with disabilities includes a right to have disability-related needs reasonably accommodated, up to the point of undue hardship, to ensure that persons with disabilities can fully participate in and benefit from services and facilities available to the public. The larger the organization with the duty to accommodate, the harder it is for the organization to justify a failure to provide needed disability accommodations.
The Ontario Legislature recently passed two statutes to help implement the right of persons with disabilities to live in a barrier-free society. Both laws apply to the court system. These laws provide for the systematic identification, removal and prevention of barriers.
The first, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, focuses on barriers in the public sector. It obliges all public sector organizations including provincial ministries (such as the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General) each year to make public an annual accessibility plan. These plans must spell out steps the organization took in the past year, and the steps it will take in the next year to remove and prevent barriers against persons with disabilities. The preamble declares, among other things:
Ontarians with disabilities experience barriers to participating in the mainstream of Ontario society…The Government of Ontario is committed to working with every sector of society to build on what it has already achieved together with those sectors and to move towards a province in which no new barriers are created and existing ones are removed. This responsibility rests with every social and economic sector, every region, every government, every organization, institution and association, and every person in Ontario.
The second statute, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, requires Ontario to become fully accessible for people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities by January 1, 2025. It establishes a system for developing, enacting and enforcing mandatory accessibility standards. These will apply to the public and private sectors. They will require removal of existing barriers and prevention of new barriers. These statutes define disability as broadly as does the Ontario Human Rights Code.  Under these statutes, efforts are currently underway to develop accessibility standards pertaining to four areas that bear upon our work, customer service, information and communications, employment and the built environment.
6. A Vision of a Barrier-Free Court System
The goal of our recommendations is a barrier-free court system.
In a barrier-free court system, those who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing would be able to access court offices via TTY (adaptive telephone technology). They would know that American Sign Language/ Langage des Signes Québecoises interpreters and other needed communications supports would be reasonably available to facilitate communication in connection with court proceedings. Similarly, people with communication disabilities that impede oral communication would have access to interpreters or other supports.
Lighting and signage would be appropriately set up to enable persons with low vision to make optimal use of their eyesight. Persons who cannot read print would have access to printed information upon request in accessible alternative format such as large print, Braille and audio recording. Court and related websites, and on-line file tracking systems, would be fully accessible to computer technologies used by persons with disabilities.
In such a system, persons with disabilities would know that they could get into court buildings and freely move from floor to floor, from room to room, and within each room, regardless of their mobility or vision disabilities. They would not be impeded by steps or by doorways that are too narrow for their assistive technologies such as wheelchairs, scooters or walkers. They could move in and out of the jury box or the witness stand. Furniture in the courtroom and in jury/ counsel rooms would be set up appropriately for persons in wheelchairs or who need electrical outlets to access their adaptive equipment. Emergency evacuation procedures would be in place to assist persons with disabilities to exit court buildings safely and quickly.
Those who work in the court system and who have a disability would have timely access to workplace accommodations where needed. Effective information and training would be provided to court staff, members of the bar and the judiciary on disability accessibility.
People with disabilities would be able to contact a publicly designated individual to advise of measures they need in order to participate fully in court proceedings, or to give input on disability accessibility needs. They would feel confident that their needs will be reasonably accommodated in a timely fashion so that they could participate on a footing of equality.
7. Survey Results: A Glimpse at Current Accessibility
Our Committee did not have the resources to do a comprehensive audit of every court in Ontario to evaluate accessibility. As our recommendations show, there is a need for such a comprehensive audit. In an attempt to get a picture of the current situation, a survey was undertaken of major participants in Ontario’s courts. To our knowledge, this was the first such survey in Ontario.
This survey was circulated across the province to law schools, legal organizations, government agencies, and community organizations. We received feedback from a variety of organizations, such as Augmentative Communication Community Partnerships Canada, Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, the Canadian Hearing Society, ARCH, Victim Witnesses Assistance Program, Legal Aid Ontario, and Community Living Ontario as well as from a diverse range of lawyers, judges and court services officials. The survey results are not comprehensive or scientific. We were not able to audit the feedback received for accuracy. However, the survey provided helpful insight into the current situation. The feedback received was consistent with our Committee members’ own extensive experience working in Ontario courts.
Those who responded to the survey indicated there are significant barriers to persons with disabilities in the court system. In most courtrooms, witnesses in wheelchairs cannot testify from the witness box. During many trials, persons called for jury duty are automatically excused if they are deaf or hard of hearing. Persons with disabilities have no way to ensure their complaints or concerns are heard, as there is no official procedure in place to receive and respond to such concerns. In one courthouse, the only elevator to the courtroom is for prisoners, and people complained that individuals in wheelchairs are taken through the holding area for prisoners to get to court. People in wheelchairs or scooters often cannot enter through the main entrance and are re-routed through an alternative entrance. There is a serious shortage in the court system of sign language interpreters. This shortage has led to poorly trained interpreters and scheduling difficulties for persons requiring sign language interpretation. Deaf lawyers in some cities reported an absence of public TTY telephones in courthouses. A court clerk who is hard of hearing cannot see the judge from his or her assigned position and cannot read the judge’s lips. There are very few court staff with the ability to help individuals who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing in their preferred mode of communication. Counsel reported that it was exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to get timely access to court materials in Braille and other alternative formats. Blind individuals too often cannot access court materials that are on-line in PDF form, because the PDF format is less accessible than other electronic formats for the range of adaptive technology that blind, low vision and dyslexic persons use to read electronic text.
We therefore make the following six recommendations.
Recommendation 1: Establish a public commitment to achieving a fully accessible court system.
* Currently, there is no general, recognized commitment to ensuring full access to Ontario’s court system for persons with disabilities. Thus, those working in the different areas of the system may not be aware of this goal, nor of the difficulties now experienced by persons with disabilities accessing the court system.
For a comprehensive, practical new strategy to be implemented that will move our courts to the ultimate goal of full accessibility, it is important to establish a clear policy commitment. This is especially significant since achieving this goal will require the efforts of several independent institutions and individuals, each with their own priorities and financial pressures.
Therefore, we recommend:
Recommendation 2: Establish a permanent Ontario Courts’ Disability Accessibility Committee to oversee progress.
* Currently, aside from our temporary Committee, there is no permanent body to monitor progress toward accessibility. To achieve a fully accessible court system, coordination and planning are critical. Government and the Ontario bar will need to monitor improvements on accessibility jointly and systematically, and plan for steps towards full accessibility.
Existing barriers are more likely to be removed and new barriers are more likely to be prevented if efforts towards full accessibility are jointly planned, coordinated and monitored by those who are involved in the court system’s direct operations. If left to the separate efforts of different courts, lawyers and provincial government departments, efforts will more likely be disjointed and ad hoc.
Thus, the court system, the Ontario Government and the Ontario bar should jointly be engaged in monitoring the effectiveness of measures implemented pursuant to this report, to improve accessibility and to plan for additional measures in future as needed.
Therefore, we recommend:
1. The Chief Justice of Ontario, in consultation with the other Chief Justices and the Attorney General of Ontario, should establish a permanent Courts’ Disability Accessibility Committee, possibly akin to that which was appointed to develop this report, to monitor progress toward full accessibility in the court system, and to recommend any additional measures that might be needed in future to achieve the goal of full accessibility. In particular:
a. This Committee should include representation from judges at all levels of court, from the Ministry of the Attorney General (especially the Court Services Division), from the Ministry of Government Services (formerly known as Management Board Secretariat), and from the Ontario bar.
b. This Committee should have the mandate to obtain input from the public where needed, including from persons with disabilities, disability service providers, as well as from the designated court services officials responsible for responding to accommodation and accessibility needs (see recommendation 3 of this report).
c. The Accessibility Directorate of the Ministry of Community and Social Services should be made available to provide expert support to this Committee where needed.
d. This Committee should have the mandate to consult with experts outside the Ontario government where needed.
Recommendation 3: Designate specific court services officials responsible for responding to accommodation and accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in the court system within each courthouse.
* Currently, there is no clear, direct avenue for a person with a disability who is coming to court to seek and arrange for a needed accommodation. There is also no publicly designated official within each court facility identified as having lead responsibility for ensuring that the accessibility and accommodation needs of persons with disabilities involved in the court system are addressed in a timely and effective fashion.
Persons with disabilities involved as participants in court proceedings should have timely, effective accommodation for their disability-related needs in order to ensure that they can fully and effectively participate in court proceedings. Officials should be identified within the court system to have responsibility for dealing with accessibility needs of persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities should know whom to ask for accommodations.
Therefore, we recommend:
1. Specific court services officials should be designated and be responsible for responding to accommodation and accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in court system within each courthouse.
a. Description of designated person:
b. Each designated person should receive comprehensive training on accommodating the full range of disabilities, including but not limited to physical, sensory, developmental, and non-visible disabilities, such as learning disabilities. This training should be organized and delivered through the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
c. Each designated person should have the authority, where appropriate in consultation with the Regional Senior Justice, to arrange barrier-free services internally within the court facility for which they are responsible.
d. Each designated person should have the authority, where appropriate in consultation with the Regional Senior Justice, to transfer any service to a barrier-free facility if necessary.
e. Each designated person should have the authority, where appropriate in consultation with the Regional Senior Justice, to contract with non-government agencies for services not available internally within court facility or government.
2. The designated person should be educated as to the definition of a disability and the identification of barriers:
a. Each designated person should be trained in the application of the Charter, the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 and in all services provided at the court location.
b. Each designated person should know the definition of disability and barrier.
c. Each designated person should be familiar with available resources for removing barriers, internally within the court facility and within government.
d. Each designated person should be familiar with all available resources, including those outside government (both volunteer and professional) to address barriers that cannot be removed internally.
e. Training should be made available for all designated persons. Persons with disabilities and persons experienced in dealing with barriers should participate in the training (see recommendation 5 of this report).
f. All designated persons should meet initially twice a year, until the duties and responsibilities are established and after that at least once a year to discuss developments and problems (see recommendation 5 of this report).
3. The designated person’s existence must be publicized:
a. A notation should appear on all documents (e.g. Statement of Claim, Promise to Appear, Appearance Notice, Recognizance of Bail, Summons, Subpoena) that require or permit a person to make use of any court facility. The notation on all documents must identify the availability of a designated person and the procedure for making contact with the designated person.
b. All forms should be available in alternate format, as is practicable.
c. Notices should be provided to the judiciary, legal profession, police, government agencies and public advising that a designated resource person is available for each court location to deal with the resolution of potential barriers along with the procedures for contacting that person (See recommendation 6 of this report).
d. Notices should be posted at all court locations with contact names and telephone numbers of staff members available to assist with accessibility to satellite court locations.
4. The designated persons and their alternates should be available and accessible during business hours and at all other times where the business of the court takes place, to meet with court staff and public.
5. The designated persons should have the resources to effectively accommodate persons with disabilities:
a. To the extent possible, a barrier-free facility should be available.
b. Relevant equipment for removing barriers should be available in every court facility. (The permanent committee established in recommendation 2 of this report will advise on an ongoing basis, in consultation with user and advocacy groups, the type of equipment necessary to meet the needs of the public. This excludes permanent physical facilities, such as elevators and ramps, dealt with in recommendation 4 of this report.)
c. Maintenance and testing programmes should be carried out to ensure that accessible equipment is at all times in working order.
d. An electronic inventory of the resources available in court facilities should be updated continuously.
6. All requests for accommodation should be monitored or tracked:
a. A tracking system should be developed to monitor the number of requests for assistance with accessibility to the court system by persons with disabilities, and the capability of the designated person to respond.
Recommendation 4 : Establish specific procedures to plan barrier-free built environments in court facilities, and to meet recurring accessibility needs in court.
* The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, human rights codes and disability legislation all guarantee rights of access to the justice system. Reports on access to justice for persons with disabilities, from the Abella Report in 1983 to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Report of the Taskforce on Courthouse Facilities in 2001, have noted the barriers impeding this right of access. Courthouse building standards currently track the Ontario Building Code and/or the Ontario Realty Corporation’s Standards for Barrier-Free Design of Ontario Government Facilities. None of these standards were created following the passing into law of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, and all of the standards are inadequate. Further, what standards and accessibility policies do exist are not always honoured.
The survey conducted by our Committee revealed significant barriers to participation in the justice system by people with disabilities across Ontario. Standards must be developed and implemented to permit persons with disabilities to enter court facilities, move around within them, and access the accommodations they require in order to participate meaningfully in court processes. Many barriers to full participation are recurring barriers. These need to be dealt with at a systemic level, so that local court staff can benefit from how other locations have addressed that particular barrier.
Accessibility planning encompasses much more than the physical structure of courthouse buildings. Court participants (including judges, counsel, litigants, witnesses, jurors and potential jurors, victims and members of the public) may have disability-related needs that must be met in order for them to enjoy equal access to the justice system. Therefore, it is crucial to deal with both barrier removal and prevention vis-à-vis court practices, and with accessibility in the built environment.
Those engaged in courthouse planning and refurbishing have many constituencies to please. However, disability accessibility planning to date has been ad hoc, unconnected, inefficient, and divorced from any existing accountability structure. Accessibility planning for courthouses must dovetail with and track overall courthouse planning in Ontario. Further, while it will take a period of years to address the barriers in all court facilities, interim steps need to be taken to maximize readily-achievable accessibility measures as expeditiously as possible.
The process of removing barriers to equality from our justice system is hampered by the lack of any identifiable person or body whose function it is to carry out this specific task, both in terms of long range strategy and in terms of day-to-day implementation of specific accommodations.
Therefore, we recommend:
* The main participants who regularly work in the court system are each in a position to ensure that court participants with disabilities can fully participate in the court process.
Therefore, we recommend:
Nothing in this recommendation is intended to derogate from the judge's independence and authority to control the processes in his or her court.
* In the course of our work, our Committee received considerable information as to specific barriers encountered by many persons with disabilities in obtaining full access to the justice system. Our Committee has identified proposed solutions to many of these problems. We recognize that the most effective way to dismantle the barriers to equality is as part of a systematic strategic plan, rather than on a piecemeal basis. Therefore, our suggested solutions to these problems are presented in Appendix A, rather than as part of our primary recommendations. Many of the problems are serious and require urgent attention. In many cases the solutions are obvious and relatively easy to implement. While a cohesive overall plan to address all systemic barriers must be the ultimate goal, improvements that can be readily implemented ought to proceed where possible.
Therefore, we recommend:
Recommendation 5: Provide education for judges, lawyers, and court service officials on disability accessibility and accommodation.
* Currently, there is insufficient knowledge on meeting the court accessibility needs of people with disabilities. This topic includes the nature and effect of various mental, physical and/or sensory disabilities, the barriers that impede persons with disabilities from fully participating in the court system, and the ways to enable people with disabilities to effectively take part in all aspects of the court process.
All participants in the court system should be more aware of and effective at meeting the court-related accessibility needs of people with disabilities. Attitudinal barriers that impede full participation in the court process should be minimized through education programs. Programs designed to provide education on meeting the court-related accessibility needs of people with disabilities including possible methods of accommodation should be ongoing, in order to benefit people currently working in the system and to respond to future education needs.
A survey of a broad spectrum of judicial, legal and professional organizations in Ontario, including law societies, government, advocacy groups, clinics and law schools, has shown a willingness to include information and training to their members on the topic of meeting the court-related accessibility needs of persons with disabilities, and has shown that this topic is now not sufficiently and consistently covered in legal education programs.
For there to be improved education in the area of achieving a fully accessible court system, all those who provide training to persons who work in various parts of the court system need to be involved.
Therefore, we recommend:
1. Organizations that provide education and/or training to judges, justices of the peace, lawyers and court staff (the “Education Organizations”) should conduct continuing education on the topic of meeting the court accessibility needs of people with disabilities,including an increased emphasis on this subject in the curriculum of law schools, the Bar Admission Course and continuing legal education programs. While programs designed specifically to address this topic should be provided to court staff, the more practical and therefore more effective approach for other participants in the court system would be to encourage the Education Organizations to include this topic within other mainstream education programs.
2. The Education Organizations should develop awareness and training materials for judges, lawyers and court services staff who deal with the public on key aspects of disability and accessibility.
3. To effectively carry out recommendations 1 and 2 in this part, a partnership of the major Education Organizations, in conjunction with the Ministry of the Attorney General, should develop an inventory of sample education/training programs designed to be incorporated by the Education Organizations into their education and/or training programs. These training modules would assist in providing an understanding of the nature of various disabilities and how to accommodate in an effective manner. As a suggestion, there could be a core module focusing on the nature of various disabilities and the professional obligations to accommodate, and an inventory of supplementary modules appropriate for specific organizations.
4. The Ministry of the Attorney General should provide appropriate training for designated court services officials responsible for responding to accommodation and accessibility needs (see recommendation 3 of this report):
a. on the barriers described in this report and others;
b. on how to remove and prevent barriers to full participation in the court system for persons with disabilities, and how to address the most common disability-related needs as identified in this report; and
c. on effective customer service for persons with disabilities.
5. The Ministry of the Attorney General should train court staff on the provision of barrier-free services to court participants with disabilities, including the implementation of court policy and practices set out in this report or adopted pursuant to it.
6. The Ministry of the Attorney General should prepare a training module for regular use in educating and training new staff and for continuing education of existing court staff.
7. Organizations that provide education programs for judges, lawyers and court staff, including those organizations referred to in this report, should develop plans to ensure their programs are provided in fully accessible premises and formats.
Recommendation 6: Effectively inform the public of the availability of accessibility and accommodation services.
* Currently, court participants may not know about available avenues for requesting needed accommodations.
The public, specifically the legal community, support and advocacy groups for victims, witnesses and accused persons, organizations that provide support and advocacy for persons with disabilities and court staff, should be informed now and periodically in the future that accessibility and accommodation services can be obtained for persons with disabilities involved in court proceedings.
Therefore, we recommend:
1. The Court Services Division should conduct a targeted “awareness campaign” to ensure the persons most likely to benefit from full accessibility are informed of the existence of available accessibility and the designated court official responsible for responding to accommodation needs.
2. The awareness campaign should focus on five specific groups:
a. The public (visiting the courthouse or court website)
b. The legal community
c. Support and/or advocacy groups for victims, witnesses and accused persons
d. Organizations that provide support and/or advocacy for persons with disabilities
e. Court staff
3. The information communicated through the awareness campaign should include:
a. The availability of the designated court official responsible for responding to accommodation and accessibility needs in each courthouse so they can know the “first contact” for assistance in obtaining accommodation for their disability-related needs;
b. The availability of accommodations, such as those recommended in Appendix A to this report, such as:
c. Contact information for the designated court official responsible for responding to accommodation and accessibility needs. A consistent email address and phone number for each area should be used, regardless of the person in the role, so that when personnel changes, the materials do not become outdated.
4. Each group should be targeted via channels that are most likely to reach them, such as:
a. The public:
b. The legal community:
c. Support and/or advocacy groups for victims, witnesses and accused persons:
d. Organizations that provide support and/or advocacy for persons with disabilities:
e. Court staff (in particular, front line staff who interact with the public):
5. A procedure should be available for individuals to make suggestions for improvement or to express concerns.
a. This could be coordinated by the designated court officials responsible for responding to accommodation at each courthouse. Solutions to create accessibility could be shared through the network of the various designated court officials.
b. All such suggestions and concerns should be included in the tracking system discussed in recommendation 3 of this report.
Justice Karen M. Weiler, Chair
Earl A. Cherniak, Q.C.
Justice Gloria Epstein
Justice Brent Knazan
Justice Anne Molloy
Justice Debra A. W. Paulseth
The Committee acknowledges with gratitude the excellent work and contributions of Mary Paterson and Denise Sayer, Law Clerks to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Denise kindly agreed to remain a member of the Committee after completing her clerkship.
 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, S.O. 2005, c. 11; Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 32.
 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (1990).
 Law Society of Upper Canada and Strategic Communications Inc., Report of the Task Force on Courthouse Facilities (Toronto: LSUC, 2001), online: <http://www.lsuc.on.ca/media/tfct_final.pdf> [LSUC Report].
 Rosalie S. Abella, Access to legal services by the disabled: report of a study (Toronto: Queen’s Printer, 1983) [Abella Report].
  3 S.C.R. 624 at para. 56 [Eldridge]; See also Granovsky v. Canada (Minister of Employment),  1 S.C.R. 703.
 See e.g. R. v. Sherratt,  1 S.C.R. 509.
 Canada , Statistics Canada, Juristat: Canadian
Centre for Justice Statistics, Vol. 24, No. 11 (Ottawa: Statistics
Canada) at 15, finding that “Data from the 1999 GSS on victimization
indicate that persons with disabilities were more likely to be the
victim of a violent crime”. See also Department of Justice, A
Statistical Profile on Vulnerable Canadians by Jacinthe Loubier,
 Section 10(1) of the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. c. H.19. defines “disability” as:
(a) any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
(b) a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
(c) a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
(d) a mental disorder, or
(e) an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997; (“handicap”)
In Granovsky, supra note 5 at para. 29, the Supreme Court defined disability broadly:
The concept of disability must therefore accommodate a multiplicity of impairments, both physical and mental, overlaid on a range of functional limitations, real or perceived, interwoven with recognition that in many important aspects of life the so-called "disabled" individual may not be impaired or limited in any way at all. An appreciation of the common humanity that people with disabilities share with everyone else, and a belief that the qualities and aspirations we share are more important than our differences, are two of the driving forces of s. 15(1) equality rights.
See also paras. 27-30, 33-34.
 Canada , Statistics Canada, Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) 2001 - Statistics on People with Disabilities in Canada and Ontario, online: Ministry of Community and Social Services <http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/mcss/english/topics/pop_ado_stats.htm>.
 Section 15(1):
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
 Section 14:
A party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter.
 See Ontario (Human Rights Commission) v. Simpsons Sears Ltd.,  2 S.C.R. 536 [Simpsons Sears]. See also Insurance Corporation of British Columbia v. Heerspink,  2 S.C.R. 145, Lamer J., concurring in result.
 Human Rights Code, supra note 8. Section 1 provides:
Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability.
 See e.g. Central Alberta Dairy Pool v. Alberta (Human Rights Commission),  2 S.C.R. 489, Wilson J.A. Under the Charter, see e.g. Eldridge, supra note 5. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, supra note 8, ss. 11, 17. See also Simpsons Sears, supra note 13.
 Ontarians with Disabilities, 2001, supra note 1.
 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, ibid.
 Ibid, s. 1(a).
 Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, ibid., s. 2; Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, s. 2 both define “disability” in the same way as the Human Rights Code, supra note 8.
 Specifically, the survey was announced at the Superior Court of Justice Judges’ Conference, at the Ontario Court of Justice Judges’ Conference, at the Court of Appeal Judges’ Conference, to the Justices of the Peace, to the Ontario Faculties of Law, in the Ontario Reports, at the LSUC Special Lectures, at the Advocates’ Society Dinner, to Court Services Management Staff, and at the conference of the Ontario Crown Attorneys Association. The survey was also made available at the Ontario Courts’ Website, and feedback was received both by email and by post.
 Abella Report, supra note 4.
 LSUC Report, supra note 3.
 Standards for Barrier-Free Design of Ontario
Government Facilities (
 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, supra note 1.
 Several elements included in recommendation 4 were also recommended by then Judge Abella in her Report. She recommended that new courthouse accessibility standards be devised with input from persons with disabilities. She identified deficiencies in the availability, quality, and public funding for sign language interpreter services and other communication supports for persons who are deaf or who have a communication disability in the court system and elsewhere. Judge Abella also found a need for more effective communication with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General for persons with disabilities, both via adaptive phone technology for deaf persons and via provision of public legal information in alternative formats for those who cannot read print. See Abella Report, supra note 4.
 Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, supra note 1.
 See also Abella Report, supra note 4. Judge Abella concluded it was very important for law schools, the Bar Admissions course, and continuing legal education programs to provide training for lawyers and law students to meet the legal needs of persons with disabilities.
 Supra note 11