Disabled in Court: Bringing a Disability Framework to Technology Adoption in the Civil Legal System

DARCY WHITE:  Okay.  I think we can go ahead and get started.

Good morning, everyone.  Thank you very much for being here today for this important discussion that we're having on disability and access in technology adoption in the civil legal system. My name is Darcy White.

My pronouns are she/her.  I'm also Deaf.  I have long blond hair, pale skin. I'm wearing a navy blue blazer and I have glasses with green flames. Behind me is a gorgeous abstract painting, bright orange, red, lavender, and a little bit of a white.

So both me and my colleague, who will introduce herself in a moment, work for The Pew Charitable Trusts civil legal system modernization project, based in Washington, D.C.  

Qudsiya, would you introduce yourself, please?

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Thank you so much, Darcy.  I am an officer.  I work with Darcy on the civil legal system modernization project at The Pew Charitable Trusts.  That's quite a mouthful, but we'll explain it in a moment. Super excited to be here.  I'm also a very proud member of the NFB and identify as blind.  I use she/her pronouns.  Today I have long dark brown hair, I'm wearing a three quarter length sleeve maroonish button down, and I think behind me, I don't know what all you can see, but I have my kitchen table and a little bar behind me.  And I'm real excited to be here.  So I will pass it back to Darcy to start off our presentation.

DARCY WHITE:  Thank you, Qudsiya.  Give me one moment.  I'm going to share my screen.
Can everybody see the slides on the screen?

SHIRA:  Yes, we can.

DARCY WHITE:  Great.  Thank you.

Before we kick off our presentation, we have a few questions for the audience.  We would like to hear what's on your minds as it relates to this topic.  So I have two questions.  I welcome anyone who would like to provide feedback or answers to please do so in the chat.  If you're unable to share your answers in the chat, feel free to just speak up.

Our first question for you all:  What are some words that come to mind when you hear the term "civil court"?

Okay.  Housing, family law.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Other thoughts?

DARCY WHITE:  Civil rights.

Small claims and consumer issues.  Okay.  Pro-se litigants.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Pro-se litigants.  That's a good observation.

DARCY WHITE:  And our second question:  What about this topic drew you here today?
Anyone willing to share?

Proceedings to resolve civil, as opposed to criminal, disputes.  Not sure if it also includes administrative proceedings.  The okay.

Accessible technology for participants with disabilities.

Issues with getting access to the court for disabled litigants.

That's a good one.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Great, great, great.  We're going to talk about all of these things today.  So you're in the right place.

DARCY WHITE:  Thank you, everyone.  Let me briefly walk you through our agenda for today's session. So Qudsiya is going to start off with giving an overview of The Pew Charitable Trust and the work that Pew does in the civil legal space, and then she's going to share research that she published last December about technology and court access.  Then I'm going to follow up with how this research has informed a new project that Pew is doing to develop a framework on how courts can modernize to become more open, efficient, and equitable for the millions of people who use the civil legal system every year without attorneys and how that framework will incorporate the needs of disabled people.

And then we would like to wrap it up with having a conversation with you all about how civil courts can better meet the needs of disabled court users.

All right.  Qudsiya, take it away.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Thank you so much, Darcy.
Really briefly, I wanted to start off explaining a bit more about Pew and our project.  So Pew works with states to find fact-based solutions to pressing policy challenges, and we work on everything from prisons to pensions to penguins, is the joke.  And one of our topics that we work on is, as we mentioned, the civil legal system.

Next slide, please.

So I wanted to start us off by situating us off in the broader national policy problem that we're facing here. According to a 2018 survey of U.S. households, we found that one in three households had family, housing, or debt problems that could be resolved in court.

And we found that 56% of people had one or more problems that touched the civil legal system.
However, three in four civil court cases involve at least one party without a lawyer.  So someone mentioned pro-se litigants.  That's what this means.  People who go to court without a lawyer.

Next slide, please.

So that is what led Pew into the project that Darcy and I work on, the civil legal system modernization project. Essentially, in brief, we do research, evaluation, and work with federal and state stakeholders to help make the civil legal system more open, efficient, and equitable for people who are navigating the system to resolve family, housing, and financial problems.  And that of course includes disabled people who have to face all of these problems at various times in their lives.

And Darcy is going to talk more about what we mean when we say open, efficient, and equitable later in the presentation.

Next slide, please.

So you know, to situate the research that I'm going to present, we all know that families experience incredible financial hardship during the pandemic.  In 2020 alone, 1 million people were evicted from their homes, and that of course would include people with disabilities.  And 9.6 million people lost their jobs.  But what's less known is that many of these problems played out in our nation's civil court system.

Next slide, please.

And one of the great challenges of our legal system is that courts historically have been designed by lawyers for lawyers.  So they have complicated procedures that often involve legal jargon, and unlike in criminal proceedings, if someone mentioned a distinction between criminal and civil earlier, in a civil case, you are not entitled to a government-funded attorney in the same way that you are in criminal cases.  So this is part the reason why so many people are going to civil court without a lawyer.

Next slide, please.

So as the pandemic started and the world shut down, that included courthouses.  And we saw, you know, we're starting to see in March of 2020 really dramatic changes in the way that courts were handling their operations.  And so we decided to embark on this analysis looking at state court emergency orders to try to understand how courts were operating during the pandemic and what that meant in large degree is courts were really ramping up the way they were using technology in a way they hadn't done.  It was absolutely unprecedented.  We wanted to capture and understand this sea change in court operations, talk about who it benefited, who it might have left behind.  That led us to our report that Darcy referenced that we published in December of 2021 which is called "How Courts Embraced Technology, Met the Pandemic Challenge, and Revolutionized their Operations." You can find that at our website, Pewtrust.org.

Today I'm going to go over the findings and lift up some of the relevance for our community, the community of disabled people navigating the court system.  I'm going to start with just kind of going over our key findings, and I'll talk through these in more detail through the presentation.

So the first thing we found which might seem pretty obvious is the use of technology exploded in civil courts during the pandemic.  We found anecdotal evidence that this increasing technology increased participation, but it also disproportionately benefited represented parties or parties with lawyers versus parties without lawyers.  And in some cases technology raised entirely new barriers for certain groups that were trying to access the civil legal system.

Next slide, please.

So really quickly, I wanted to talk about how technology can play a role in the court process.  So a court case often starts with someone filing.  E-filing can be used. electronic filing to file paperwork.  Oftentimes we have documents that need to be signed and witnessed by a third party through notarization.  That can also be made electronic.  One of the obvious manifestations of technology in courts is of course virtual court hearings.  And then there's other types of tools like something called online dispute resolution that can be used by parties to asynchronously negotiate and mediate disputes online anytime outside of court business hours without having to set foot in the courtroom.  So these are all different types of technologies that courts could use at various stages.

Next slide, please.

So before the pandemic, courts were really slow at adopting technology.  Before the pandemic, almost no states, we found, used virtual hearings.  Almost none.  37 states and D.C. allowed people without lawyers to electronically file paperwork, but that happened at a rate of about 2-3 states a year across three decades starting in the early '90s, so really slow.  And the same was true for E-notarization or E-witnessing of documents.  34 states had that in place prior to the pandemic, but again, they had been doing that over three decades.

Next slide, please.

So flash forward to March of 2020.  We looked at emergency court orders between March and August of 2020, and we found a huge explosion in the use of technology.  So all 50 states and D.C. were either allowing or requiring virtual hearings, almost overnight.  10 additional states created mechanisms for people to electronically file paperwork, and 11 states and D.C. changed their notarization policies, either adopting electronic notarization or waiving that requirement altogether, saying that you don't have to have a third party witness your testimony or your written document; you can just submit a sworn affidavit and be done with it.
Next slide, please.

So we also found evidence that technology improved participation for litigants, and I have a few examples of these.  The first we found in criminal and child welfare proceedings.  For example, in New Jersey, the no show rate in a criminal case was 20% during the first week of March 2020.  That rate of no shows dropped to .3% during the week of March 16, which is the first week that courts went online.  That's pretty extraordinary.  We found something similar in civil cases.  For example, in Arizona, we found that the rate of default judgments, so a default judgment happens when, you know, the defendant doesn't appear or respond to the proceeding and then there's a judgment, an automatic judgment in favor of the plaintiff because the defendant failed to respond to the case, so we found that that rate of default judgment in Arizona civil cases dropped by 8% between 2019 and 2020, which would suggest that this was because people were able to participate virtually and use technology to respond to their cases, and it reduced the default judgment rate.
Technology was also the number one reason court leaders were attributing to this increase in participation, and according to a survey of judges in June of 2021, they believe that virtual hearings were here to stay, that they would be a permanent fixture of court processes in the future.

Next slide, please.

But we also found that technology disproportionately benefited represented parties.  So according to a reporting from ProPublica, debt collectors were reaping the benefit of electronic filing.  We did some research about debt collection lawsuits that we published back in 2020.  Darcy led that research.  And we found that consumers already had a lot of barriers they faced in debt collection lawsuits even before the pandemic.  More than 90% of defendants in debt cases are unrepresented, don't have lawyers.  And whereas less than 10% of plaintiffs in debt collection cases face court without a lawyer.  And we also found that in the states where data is available, 70% of debt collection lawsuits result in default judgments.  But we found that in our research, in eight states people without lawyers were not able to electronically file paperwork in debt collection lawsuits, which means they didn't have the ability to respond in these cases in eight states.  And we found something similar in eviction cases.  Again, same thing.  90%, more than 90% of tenants don't have lawyers in eviction cases, and there's also lower rates of participation in those cases by tenants and other parties.  We found that in nine states people without lawyers were not able to electronically file paperwork in eviction cases, and we found the same thing in 10 states where people weren't able to file requests to modify their child support orders electronically.  They weren't able to do so.
So this really creates a lot of challenges for people without lawyers to participate and erects a lot of barriers.

Next slide, please.

So we also found that the use of technology in courts created new barriers for people.  And I'll talk about it in three areas and focus on abilities, but all of this can apply to people with disabilities who have intersectional identities and needs.  So the first is broadband.  According to research from 2018, 42 million adults in the U.S. lack access to reliable broadband.  And that includes -- it's disproportionately true for Black and Hispanic and rural and tribal communities.  Courts understood this.  They were making efforts that look really like what we do in our disability community, creating multiple modalities of access for people, to make sure that the most people possible are able to participate in their court proceeding.  For example, 28 states created physical dropboxes outside of courthouses so that people could physically file their paperwork if they weren't able to do so electronically.  Additionally, states allowed people to participate in their hearings via telephone rather than video teleconference to make it easier for people.  Those are some examples of what states did to try to bridge this digital divide.

We also found similar types of barriers were erected for people with limited English proficiency and people with disabilities.  So we looked at 10,000 state and local trial and intermediate appellate court orders, emergency orders, that were issued during the pandemic that were gathered by researchers at the Wesleyan university.  And we found that less than 3% of the orders we examined mentioned access and accommodations for people with limited English proficiency.  And less than 1.5% of these orders mentioned access or accommodations for people with disabilities.  And none of the orders we looked at specifically talked about technology access for either of these groups.

So this isn't actually that out of line with what we've seen in terms of court operations related to services for these groups in general.  So according to the National Center on Access to Justice, which every year creates a justice index, which rates states on a scale of 0-100 on various metrics, and two of the metrics are language access and disability access.  And most states scored less than 50 for language access and disability access.  So what we found isn't inconsistent with what's generally true in terms of courts' compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act or with the ADA.  So this is really an area that's very, very much ripe for advocacy from our community.  Either state courts as an institution, they're really challenged with ensuring that they meet the requirements of the ADA.  And beyond the ADA, that they create meaningful access for people with disabilities.  So we're really looking forward to engaging with you all in conversation about how we can further that access and make sure people don't face terrible financial family consequences from not being able to participate in their court proceedings.

Next slide, please.

So that leads me next to our recommendations.  So we have set forth three recommendations in our report, and I think Darcy's presentation is going to be really useful because it will demonstrate how we're going to sort of help courts operationalize these recommendations moving forward by creating a framework for how they can modernize.

The first is to reimagine.  Rather than layering technology on top of arcane, complicated, hard to follow processes and digitize existing problems, that courts should think about how they can make their processes more open, efficient, and equitable, and then think about how technology can help them to further those goals.

The second is to test.  And this includes accessibility testing for all technology products, to make sure they are fully accessible to people with multiple types of disabilities.  And in general that they are user friendly and that they incorporate user feedback.

And finally, evaluate.  So make sure that we collect and analyze data that can help us improve technology and think about what is the right technological intervention that's appropriate.  And one thing to note, in general we found that courts, civil courts across the country, don't really do a great job of collecting data in general.  Demographic data specifically.  And most courts to our understanding do not collect data about the participation of people with disabilities specifically.  So that makes it really hard for them to understand what impact their operational choices are having for that population.

So with that, I'm going to stop here and see if there are any questions.

Feel free to put them in the chat or to unmute.

DEEPA GORAYA:  This is Deepa.  I have a question.  Have you done research on whether the technologies that were put into place during the pandemic to make it easier for people to access the courts, are they still in place?  Are courts going back to the way things were before the pandemic?

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  That's a really good question, Deepa.  It's a really mixed bag.  So for instance, we were speaking to some litigants in Philadelphia, and in their family court, they've gone back fully in person.  And some states are definitely keeping the technology solutions in place.  So states like Michigan, Texas, they believe that there's huge benefits to having these technology solutions.  Michigan, for example, developed an entire sort of set of standards around virtual hearings that they're now implementing.  So it's definitely a mixed bag.  I think it would definitely be worth some follow-up research to understand to what extent across the country some of these tools are still remaining in place.

DARCY WHITE:  I see Marissa has her hand raised.

MARISSA:  Yes, this is Marissa.  I wanted to also respond to Deepa with what we're seeing in D.C., if that's okay.  And so essentially what we're seeing in D.C. is the court wants to have a hybrid model, but instead of actually trying to understand what works best for people who lack access, they're just like, oh, let's just have a default where all of these are remote and you have to opt in to be in person.  Which doesn't make any sense because if you need to opt in to be in person, a lot of those folks may lack phones or technology to be able to opt in.  So it's just like a total nightmare.  And we're trying to do some advocacy on that as well.
What we've seen is there are a lot of people who have disabilities who do prefer to be in person for whatever reason due to lack of access, and we did have issues before the pandemic trying to get people with disabilities, like I had disabled litigants who would need accommodations for virtual, and it was just so hard to do.  And now it's fine.

So anyway, that's what we've seen.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Yeah, I think that's really accurate.  And I just want to lift up one more thing that Deepa said earlier.  We focus on litigants in this presentation.  I think it's really important also to lift up the fact that there are disabled lawyers who need access to the court system.  And as you mentioned, Marissa, sometimes the virtual options or the digital options are effective.  But sometimes in-person options are better.  It depends on the circumstances.  And having flexibility, creating some sort of standards and creating multiple modalities of access as we all know is optimal in terms of maximizing people's ability to participate.

So thank you for sharing those insights from D.C.  Appreciate it.
Other thoughts or questions?  Otherwise, I'll turn it over to Darcy.
DARCY WHITE:  Thank you, Qudsiya.  Thank you for that excellent presentation.
Before I start my presentation on the civil legal framework, I would like to first check in with the audience again with some questions related to this topic.  Again, I invite you to share your answers in the chat box, or feel free to just speak up.

My first question for everyone is:  What do you think are some of the challenges that disabled people face in civil courts?

Navigating the process, uh-huh.

Any others?

Speaking for myself, understanding how to request accommodations.  I've been to court and I had no idea how to identify how to request an interpreter.

Adequate, accessible notice.

And my next question is:  What does a modern civil court for disabled people look like to you?
Any thoughts?

Consumer choice and flexibility.  I like that.

Universal access, uh-huh.

Anyone else?

Okay.  Well, we can circle back to these questions at the end of my presentation.  That's a great lead in because I'm going to share with you how Pew is thinking about what a modern civil court should look like.
So I would like to start with sharing why Pew decided to develop this framework on how courts can modernize to become more open, efficient, and equitable.  Before the pandemic, civil court leaders were increasingly calling for courts to modernize, became more transparent, and make it easier for court users without lawyers to learn their rights, assert their rights, and have those rights enforced.

And also before the pandemic, the courts were increasingly adopting new technologies like online dispute resolution, as part of this effort to modernize.  And then as Qudsiya described, during the pandemic the courts were adopting technology, particularly virtual proceedings, at unprecedented rates.  While that did open up new ways for people to work with the court, it also generated new barriers to access that courts did not have the guidance or the tools to navigate, as Qudsiya pointed out.

So what Pew is seeing here is that there is this momentum to modernize, and then plus during the pandemic courts are being forced to modernize.  There is not a standard way of talking about what modernization means in the civil courts and how to go about measuring it.

So Pew is working to fill this gap.  We're doing this by developing the civil court modernization framework.  It creates a shared language on what modernization means, open, efficient, and equitable, and outlines a set of goals and measures that courts can adopt to assess progress to becoming a modern court.

By open, we mean maximizing transparency and data collection to assess ongoing improvement.  So using and sharing data to know what's happening in the courts, what's working, what's not working, how can courts improve.

And by efficient, we mean optimizing our court's limited resources to help people without lawyers engage more effectively.  So this is not efficiency in the traditional sense of court cost savings or court staff time saved.  Those are important and they are embedded in our framework, but the goal here is that time minimization and cost minimization should not come at the expense of court users without lawyers getting the resources they need to effectively navigate their case, and that includes accommodations for disabled court users.

And then by equitable, we mean ensuring all people who use the courts are on the same footing before the court regardless of representation status, disability, race, ethnicity, English language proficiency, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other sociodemographic factors.

So the framework is meant to be broad so that a court can apply it to any case type.  And they can also apply it to any technology innovation.  So it's not tailored to one specific case type like debt collection or eviction or guardianship.  But that is something that we would like to do in the future after publishing this broader framework.

So within this broader framework, we're working to better embed disability and access.  So I'm going to spend the next couple of minutes walking you through some concrete examples of how courts can measure disability and access across the three principles.  So in the interest of time, I'm only going to share two examples per principle, and within those examples, I will only share an example of one outcome.  But we definitely have much more than I will share today.  If you're interested in seeing that comprehensive set of goals and outcomes, reach out to me after the presentation.  I'm more than happy to share those with you.
So let's dive in.  One of the key goals that we have identified of an open court is accessible court data.  So it's important that people who go to court can access information about their case.  So an action that a court can undertake to achieve this goal is to require court data vendors and web developers to ensure that a court user's case information is accessible for people with varying types of disabilities.  For example, making sure that the data system used to access your case information is accessible with screen reader technology.

One way that a court can measure whether this action is actually achieving this goal of accessible court data is by surveying court users with disabilities about their experience with accessing their case information.  Were they able to do so securely without encountering any barriers?

And also important, they need to make sure they're surveying court users with varying disabilities.  Blind people, Deaf people, people with neurodivergence, and so on.

Another example of a goal for making a court more open is that the court analyzes and publishes civil case trends.  The court needs to know what's happening in the courts.  What cases are dominating the courts.  Most likely it will be debt collection and eviction.  Within those cases, who are being disproportionately sued?  Is it people of color?  Is it disabled people?  And within that, what are some differences you're seeing?  Are disabled people experiencing different case outcomes than nondisabled people?  By examining these things, courts can identify problematic trends and then use that to identify ways that they can address some of those problem areas.

So an action a court can undertake to achieve this goal is to adopt uniform data standards that includes collecting disability-related data across multiple case types.  And one way to measure progress towards achieving this goal is assessing whether courts can identify trends related to court accessibility for disabled users, making sure, again, that they are examining this across various disabilities.  And also comparing that to a baseline so that they can assess trends over time and see what's working and what's not.

So moving on to the goals of an efficient court.  One of the key goals we identified -- and pardon me real quick.  I'm just checking the chat to make sure.  I'm checking the chat.  If I see someone put something in there, just to make sure if there's questions or something came up.

All right.  So one of the key goals of an efficient goal is having accessible court information.  And this is different from accessible court data.  So the accessible court data that is part of an open court focuses on an individual's case data, whereas here we're talking about just more general court information such as where do I go in the courthouse to participate in my case?  And more detailed information like how do I navigate my case?  I have a debt collection case.  Where do I go to file?  What do I need to file?  And by when do I need to file?

So one way that a court can -- one action a court can take to achieve this goal is to examine and improve the accessibility of court information on court website and in the courthouse.

And then a way they can measure whether they are achieving this goal is assessing whether disabled court users can easily find out court information about their case and court processes.  And again, it's very important that they assess this across a range of disabilities and also compare it to a baseline.

Another goal of an efficient court is reducing delays and costs for court users.  One way that a court can work towards this goal is to apply universal design to all new efficiency-related policies, processes, and technologies.  For example, if a court wanted to adopt a dispute resolution for making the court more efficient, the court should hire a universal design expert to work with the ODR vendor to build, test, and implement ODR in a way that's accessible for all and also making sure that they're assessing that over time and against a baseline to continue to see what's working, what's not, and what needs to be improved.  So a way to measure that and kind of how I was describing now is that by surveying or interviewing court users with disabilities -- sorry if you're hearing that siren -- and whether they're reporting fewer delays in their cases due to accessibility issues.

And then finally, the goals of an equitable court, one of the key goals that we identified is that court leaders and stakeholders need to understand inequities around court access.  We promote justice for all.  The courts therefore need to understand where they're falling short.  An example of an action that a court can take to achieve this goal is by providing trainings and education opportunities for court leaders to learn about disparities in court access, such as through lived experience storytelling, formal disability awareness training.

And a progress measure for this action is for the court users with disabilities report, again, compared to a baseline, whether they feel respected and heard in court.  This measure may not be directly tied to tangible access, but I think that it speaks to the cultural element of judges learning to interact with disabled court users and also show empathy.

And then finally the last goal that I would like to share with you is court users from marginalized groups can assert their rights and have them enforced.  And a key way the court can achieve this goal is to routinely study the impacts of court processes, policies, and technologies on the participation of disabled court users, including intersectionality.

So one of the progress measures for this action is courts adapt processes, policies, and technologies based on the findings.  So, for example, if a court is trying to assess the impacts of notifications on the default judgment rate, they can probably learn very valuable information from just surveying the general population, learn some things such as, okay, the notifications are so full of legal jargon that people are not understanding that they are being sued and what are the next steps.  So that's very valuable.  But if the court also surveyed disabled court users, they may learn equally valuable information such as, oh, the notification did not include information on how I can request accommodations and where I can go to do that.  And that could be a reason why people aren't showing up for court, if they do not know how to make a request for an accommodation that they need.

I hope this was helpful just to give you a general sense of how we are shaping this framework and how we are thinking about incorporating disability and access into it.

The next steps for this framework, we have been working with a working group of civil legal stakeholders who are helping us refine this, and we are also stress testing this in courts in three states to get a sense of the feasibility of applying these outcome metrics in these goals.  And we are also going to do focus groups with court users.  We would also like to do a focus group with disabled court users, because this framework is meant to benefit those who go to court without lawyers, so therefore we have to make sure we have disabled court users' perspectives embedded.  So those are our immediate next steps, and then we're hoping to have this published by the end of the year, followed up with additional guide books and tool kits that courts can use to adopt and apply this framework.

Thank you all very much for joining us today for this presentation.  I am going to get back to the chat in just a minute.  I apologize.  It's hard to watch the interpreter and present and do the screen sharing at the same time.  I'm not ignoring you.

So I'll stop sharing, and I would love to move on to having a discussion with you all, either going back to Qudsiya's presentation or any questions about my presentation.  And I'm going to see what I missed in the chat.

One question I see, do we have suggestions for approaching the courts to get them to engage in training or how to offer or suggest them.  How we can get courts to -- yeah, that is a very good question.  I think it's going to have to be an incentivized training.  And I also know that we anticipate, when we roll out this framework, one of the biggest barriers we anticipate facing is budget.  Doing anything to modernize is going to cost a lot of money, and so I can see with trainings, it's going to be something that will be kind of like something that could go down the list of priorities.  Hopefully that won't be the case, but when we roll out this framework, if courts want to adopt it, we have like a set of foundational things that they need to do for it to be sustainable, and one of them is like an item on budget and things that they need to start to plan to budget for so they can do this effectively.  So I think it will be baby steps, courts building the foundation that they need so they can adopt this framework, which will include budget and also building a really strong stakeholder network so it's not just the courts but also court users, organizations, all working together, compiling resources, so we can help courts do this.  So I wish I had a better answer to that.  Qudsiya, I wonder if you have some ideas, though.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Yeah, this is Qudsiya.  I appreciate, Darcy, your insights about how the plans to like operationalize this framework in the sort of like short to medium term.  One thing I think is important is, most states and jurisdictions have an Access to Justice Commission.  And I don't typically see disability organizations at that table.  So I think approaching or finding out where and who leads your access justice commission, approaching them as a disability advocacy group and saying, we want a seat at the table, we want to have a say in this, it affects our constituency in X, Y, Z ways, I think that's a good place to get started.  Oftentimes the commission can coordinate training.  Or there's also the state bar foundations, which do a lot of work around access to justice as well.  So I think there's some -- there need to be greater connective tissue to these institutions and our disability advocacy community to make sure that that perspective is also incorporated in whatever access to justice efforts are going on inside of a state or jurisdiction.

DARCY WHITE:  Thank you, Qudsiya.  I'm looking at an earlier comment that says, I believe there have been studies, maybe only anecdotal, showing that plaintiffs have had worst outcomes in virtual hearings and settlement conference.  I'm wondering if you want to speak more to that.  You don't have to...
One thing I would be curious to know, and Rick, if you happen to know where those studies are located, I would love to see.  Because I wonder if that's an accessibility issue there.

One of the things I also wonder is, if it happens to be that the virtual hearings, as Qudsiya pointed out, are increasing participation, we have other studies that show that when people participate in their case, the defendants participate, they tend to have better outcomes.  Not all the time.  I think it's mostly like they tend to have their case dismissed and that tends to be often a debt collection case or maybe eviction case.  So I wonder if is the worse outcomes because the defendant is showing up and so they're able to assert their rights and get the facts heard and the judge realizes, okay, maybe the plaintiff doesn't have a case after all?  So I would be curious to explore that further.  That's interesting.

RICK:  Just so I'm clear, when I'm talking about plaintiffs and defendants, I guess I'm using the term "plaintiff" primarily to include consumers who may be plaintiffs in, for example, civil rights cases or personal injury cases as opposed to defendants, say in a debt collection case.  I don't know if there have been studies, say in those kinds of civil cases, debt collection cases, but I believe there have been some studies that have focused on what's the outcome for plaintiffs generally say in personal injury cases or civil rights cases?  I think those may have been done through the American Association for Justice, AAJ.  They may also have been done through ASTC, the Association of Trial Consultants.  And I think to some extent people were analyzing that data and concluding that it was -- you lose the kind of personal contact that you have in the courtroom with judges, for example when we're talking about hearings, or in arbitration or mediation, that it's easier for the fact finder or the mediator to put less weight on the concerns of plaintiffs by which I think in this case means people with disabilities.  And that's certainly been true in cases involving trials and jury trials.  There are courts that are moving in the direction of instead of having -- I'm sorry.  Essentially having virtual jury trials, people who have participated in that or people who have studied juries for a long time believe that that's a very dangerous direction to be going in because you lose a lot of the interaction that's necessary between jurors to make good decisions.

That's kind of a rambling response to your question, but I hope I've addressed what you asked.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Yeah, Rick, this is Qudsiya.  I think you're raising some really interesting points.  I haven't yet seen a study on the impact of virtual jury trials.  I think it's a really interesting question that's ripe for more research.  We just don't know what the differences and outcomes could be or what the pitfalls are.
We're really excited to be partnering with folks at Indiana University to do a pretty comprehensive study of virtual hearings in debt and eviction cases.  Not arbitration or mediation, but actual hearings.  And we're looking forward to sharing the results of that research hopefully in 2023.  It's kind of a long study that will give us some really rich information.

And just to your point, there is some research out there, this is not exactly the same context at all, but I think similar to what you're describing and certainly applies, particularly for those with disabilities.  There was a study done by Ingrid Eagly at UCLA about video teleconference hearings in immigration cases.  So when detained immigrants are beamed in via videoconference, which is becoming ubiquitous practice within DOJ that manages the immigration courts, and I think it's absolutely right, in immigration cases, for instance, a lot of the question, the finder of fact is looking to because oftentimes, say for example in an asylum case, there may not be as much physical evidence because the person was fleeing their country and didn't have all their stuff.  So all of their documentation and what have you.  And a lot of that finding of fact hinges upon the adjudicator's perceptions of the respondent's credibility.  You can imagine that in a video context, and particularly if you're dealing with someone with mental health disabilities, with physical disabilities, you know, there could be really considerable biases and misperceptions of a respondent's credibility.  And I imagine that could be true for jurors as well.

So what you're describing as anecdotes needs to be studied further so that we can clearly understand the potential pitfalls and unconscious bias that could play into having a video hearing versus one in person where you have a better access to someone's physical demeanor.

And I think the study with the Indiana courts will illuminate some of that.  It's going to focus specifically on what inequities arise particularly with unrepresented folks in eviction and debt collection proceedings.  So it's a really good point, Rick.

RICK:  I strongly would suggest that you contact the American Society of Trial Consultants for their input on virtual trials versus real trials, virtual hearings versus in-person ones.  I don't know if you know about that organization, but they are folks who study jurors, jury trials, and they've been looking at this whole area of virtual trials for several years now.  If you'd like contact information, I would be happy to help.  I'm not a member, but my wife is a trial consultant, and they've been thinking about this for a while.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  That's great.  Thanks.  We could definitely follow up.
And so there's a question in the chat about virtual bail hearings.  And so our study of technology during the pandemic focused more on civil than criminal cases, but I definitely think that's an interesting area.  Again, same principles.  There has to be an adjudication by the judge about whether or not someone can be released pretrial, and that's a really critical kind of determination that the adjudicator has to make.  And whether or not there is bias or having a video process can skew that, I think it's an interesting question and the similar principles apply for sure.

This is really, really helpful.  Anyone have any thoughts or questions?  We really welcome your feedback as we're thinking through these things.

DARCY WHITE:  This is Darcy.  I have a question for the audience.  Do you know of any courts that are exemplars when it comes to disability access?

That is really sad if the answer is no.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  It means we have a lot of work to do.

DARCY WHITE:  Because that was one thing -- this is Darcy.  When we roll out this framework, one thing we would like to be able to provide the courts are examples of how other courts have done some of this work on modernization and in particular disability access.  So if anything comes to mind after this presentation, we would really appreciate hearing from you.  You can reach out to me or Qudsiya.  We'll put our emails in the chat box before we go.  But yeah, anything that comes to mind would be very useful that we could explore further and share with courts once we roll this out.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  I just dropped my email address in the chat for those who would like it.  And I have another question as well.  So as you probably have observed, our work has focused on tackling various substantive areas.  So as I mentioned, we produced the report on debt collection lawsuits in 2020, and then this report about the pandemic and technology.  We've done some work on evictions.  And so in any of those areas, if you are thinking of any kind of substantive issues that are particular to the disability community, you know, one thought is medical debt is something I imagine disproportionately affects people with disabilities.  And evictions as a result of fair housing or ADA violations is another one.  So another area that we're looking into is guardianship of a minor.  And I imagine, again, if you're a disabled adult seeking guardianship over a minor, there are particular challenges you would face.  So we're also really interested if any of you have thoughts about any of those substantive areas and what particular issues on a substantive level disabled people face when navigating those type of proceedings.

MADDIE:  This is Maddie.  I previously worked in the housing court in the New York City housing court for several years.  And something that I noticed in my representation of clients was often landlords and landlord attorneys would not believe that my clients had legitimate requests for reasonable accommodations, and there was a lot of skepticism, even for I would say relatively minor accommodations like the installation of grab bars.  The attitude was just very much like, oh, you're just making that up.  It was just very dismissive and disrespectful.  So I'm not really sure -- and I left the housing court realm because it just seemed too broken.  So I'm not sure exactly how those sort of attitudes can be fixed, but that was just a trend that I noticed.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Yeah, thanks.  That's really useful.  And it just points to things that oftentimes in housing cases there's a lot of settlement negotiations that happen outside of even a court hearing, and it's something to watch out for, to think about.  We're looking at studying some eviction diversion programs, so I wonder if some of these issues come up there that need to be focused on.  So I appreciate you flagging that issue.

DARCY WHITE:  I appreciate that as well, because that does emphasize the need for that one goal that we have in the equity principle about training for judges.  And court personnel as well.  Training on disability awareness and lived experience, like storytelling, to build that empathy.  And then there's things around you should never question someone who requests accommodations.  I've certainly experienced that myself when requesting.  People become very skeptical and suspect.

So yes.  We do need to reinforce that need for the training around that.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  It would also help if there were more disabled judges.  More disabled attorneys.  That's another issue.  

Yeah.  "Amen."

DARCY WHITE:  Yeah, that is actually a goal we have in the equity piece right now that I didn't raise is the court should reflect the community that they serve.  And so looking across race and disability and age or gender, needs to be reflective of that.  So I agree with you, Qudsiya, definitely more disabled judges and lawyers.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Any other thoughts or questions?
Dare we say we can give people a few minutes of their lives back?

DARCY WHITE:  I think we can wrap up.
Thank you, everyone, for joining us today.  We really appreciate you taking the time to hear about the work that we are doing and also appreciated hearing your thoughts and insights.  Again, please reach out to us if you have any questions or additional feedback, and have a wonderful Friday afternoon and a good weekend.  Thank you all.

QUDSIYA NAQUI:  Yeah, thanks everyone so much.  Take good care.