Handicapped sign at entrance to a business..photo by Jason Doiy.12-2-09.050-2009
Handicapped sign at entrance to a business..photo by Jason Doiy.12-2-09.050-2009 (Jason Doiy)

A Connecticut Judicial Branch advisory board has released a report with 16 ideas for improving access to court buildings for people with disabilities, including suggestions for adding training sessions for court staff.

The recommendations suggest that the Judicial Branch conduct reviews of restrooms to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities, starting with restrooms used by jurors. The Judicial Branch should also increase information about handicapped parking at courthouses on its website, and “consider posting way-finding signage between elevators and/or stairs that also include distances,” the advisory board said in its report.

Other recommendations include making improvements to the equipment used for people with hearing impairments, including the purchase of wireless listening devices, which can be used by jurors or other members of the public in any court location.

Also, the board said, the Judicial Branch should develop a database to track the usage of courts by people with disabilities, including the number of requests for hearing aid and visual aid devices each year.

The recommendations came from the Advisory Board on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is made up of judges and employees from the state Supreme, Appellate and Superior courts. The panel suggested improvements of access in four areas: facilities, training, technology and outreach/compliance.

The advisory board is part of an internal ADA program that was created to ensure compliance in the federal law, which requires employers, businesses and all public agencies to provide equal access to public services.

“Everyone starts with providing the minimum requirements under the law, but we don’t want to stop there,” said Sandra Lugo-Gines, a member of the advisory board who is the ADA coordinator for the Superior Court Operations Division of the Judicial Branch. “We want to go the extra mile; we want to do more when we can.”

Under the ADA, anyone with any disability who uses state and federal courts must be provided with accommodations to ensure equal access. The law mandates that courts provide wheelchair ramps and handicapped-accessible courtrooms, but also visual aids, real-time court transcripts and sign language interpreters to level the playing field for people with disabilities.

Judicial Branch officials, including Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll III, who is chair of the advisory board, said they are proud of the state’s efforts to make courts more accessble, efforts that were stepped up in recent years following recommendations by the Access To Justice Commission created by Chief Justice Chase Rogers.

For instance, the Judicial Branch website was redesigned in late 2013, at the recommendation of the advisory board, to include policies, procedures and forms relevant to the ADA. The Judicial Branch is continuing to add instructions on the website, and identifying areas where training of staff on ADA compliance might be warranted.

In terms of training, the advisory board said the Judicial Branch should continue to provide training for employees to ensure ADA compliance, the board wrote in its report. Court administrators added training sessions in recent years and recently started training judges for sensitivity when dealing with people with disabilities. Last year, the courts received a $30,000 grant to provide employee sensitivity training, especially when providing services for people with hidden disabilities.

Lugo-Gines said the advisory board suggested continuing that same training, and court administrators will look for a new grant or other funding source. “We want to make sure employees are handling these people properly,” she said.