(In)Accessibility in the Legal Profession

  • November 3, 2020
  • Khalid Mahdi

Among key factors that shape the ability of Canadians to access justice, the physical accessibility of courthouses is too crucial an issue to be overlooked. For lawyers with disabilities, the inaccessibility of provincial courthouses is not simply an issue of physical access, but also the ability to participate as members of the legal profession.

In a recent article, Canadian Lawyer Magazine outlined some of the physical barriers faced by lawyers and law students with disabilities in accessing Manitoba court buildings. Among the challenges cited are the absence of ramps and prompt snow removal in the winter, and a lack of automatic door openers. Those featured in the story note a sense of indifference among those positioned to increase accessibility and eliminate some of the barriers faced. The article explains that in some instances, lawyers with disabilities have withdrawn from the legal profession entirely. You can read the full article here.

Similar problems exist in Ontario. For example, the AODA Alliance has written about the accessibility barriers associated with the anticipated New Toronto Courthouse. You can read the AODA Alliance’s summary here. If lawyers feel helpless to overcome the barriers in accessibility to the point where they leave the profession, we can imagine that those accessing the justice system must feel a similar sense of hopelessness.

Accessible justice can mean many things. The built environment in which justice is pursued is a part of that. Like other professions, COVID-19 has impacted the legal profession in many ways. One positive impact on the legal profession is that judicial forums have embraced virtual hearing technologies. While these present their own challenges, it does increase the accessibility of these forums for many with a variety of disabilities. Bakerlaw hopes to see this increased accessibility continue long after the pandemic has passed.

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the access of public services and facilities, such as courthouses. Bakerlaw has represented countless clients in securing the accommodations they require. If you’re headed to court or a Tribunal and require accommodation, check with the Registrar to see what accommodations can be put into place. If you are attending a virtual hearing, we have previously written about best practices here.

Bakerlaw has extensive experience in supporting clients seeking an accommodation. If you need some help securing an accommodation at work, in school or anywhere else, contact us to see if our team can assist you.

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