The Atlanta Legal Aid Society has landed a major grant from the Legal Services Corp. to both overhaul the state’s self-help legal aid website and make it a national model for accessibility to people with disabilities.
The $134,720 grant to update GeorgiaLegalAid.org is one of 25 Technology Initiative Grants the federal legal aid funder awarded this year as part of a national initiative to make it easier for those seeking legal assistance to find it online.
“The grants make legal information, court forms, video instruction, and practical tips available to people who otherwise would have to navigate the legal system without any help,” said LSC president Jim Sandman in a statement.
Atlanta Legal Aid jointly maintains GeorgiaLegalAid.org with the Georgia Legal Services Program. Launched in 2004, it is a robust source of self-help legal information, but “it needs a facelift,” said Kristin Verrill, Atlanta Legal Aid’s director of grants and innovation. Like many legal aid websites nationally, it needs an organizational and design overhaul as well as an update to its content, she said.
The 27-month grant will fund a paralegal to revamp the content and an accessibility expert to make it user-friendly to those with sight, hearing or other impairments and the adaptive technologies they use, Verrill said.
The retooled and disability-accessible GeorgiaLegalAid.org website will be used as a template for LawHelp.org, a national legal aid website developed and maintained by Pro Bono Net, in partnership with hundreds of legal services nonprofits, Verrill said, adding that Pro Bono Net provides tech support for legal services groups’ self-help websites around the country.
“That way, other programs can take advantage of what we do to update the Georgia website,” said Atlanta Legal Aid’s executive director, Steve Gottlieb.
Another Atlanta Legal Aid website, OlmsteadRights.org, started by the group’s groundbreaking Disability Integration Project, will serve as the model for making GeorgiaLegalAid.org accessible to those with disabilities.
Talley Wells, the project’s head (until Nov. 30 when he becomes executive director of Georgia Appleseed), brought in a disability consultant to make OlmsteadRights.org similarly user-friendly.
“We’re excited because the LSC through this grant is supporting us to leverage the lessons we learned to make the GeorgiaLegalAid.org and LawHelp.org websites as accessible as possible,” Wells said, adding that between 8,000 and 9,000 people per month nationally use the OlmsteadRights.org website.
“While Georgia Legal Services and Atlanta Legal Aid represent thousands of Georgians, there are thousands of other Georgians we are not able to represent who need legal services—so we are using technology and other resources so we can get them some equipment to face whatever civil legal challenges they may have,” Well said.
“We provide self-help—an essential tool not just for litigants but for the courts. We want to make sure our tech matches our content,” Wells said.