The need more for accessible legal services or information is well known and unnecessary to recount, but it is clear that a major problem facing access to these services is the amount they cost; very few people can afford them. This leads to average-income and particularly low-income groups or individuals not having access to justice and many of these low-income groups or individuals are also from other equity-seeking groups, which makes this an intersectional issue.
The transition into offering legal services or information online can help address the access to justice issue by allowing these groups to have access to answers or information regarding their legal problems at low or no cost. However, what about those groups or individuals that are at the intersections of disadvantage? For example, minority groups with none to limited English proficiency that also have low income or disabled people with low income. The impact of A2J initiatives for them will undoubtedly be less unless the online tool can address these intersectional issues.
When making user profiles, it is critical to consider users that may fall outside the majority but for whom the services offered may still be essential. Accessibility, usability, and inclusion are important concepts to address in user-profiles and then work towards implementing solutions within your online platform to help address the needs of these groups.
For example, how will the online service help those groups of people that do have limited or low English proficiency or those that have visual impairments and may not be able to read the text? The need to address questions such as: Is there a way to translate English to another language; is it possible to have audio prompts for those who cannot read or have visual impairments, etc.?
Now, by no means am I an expert in technology. I am only addressing some of the potential issues that may come up as legal professionals or students work towards developing online tools to help people with legal needs – presumably, those who cannot afford to pay for them.
I believe that online platforms can accommodate these groups further by having these added features. For example, web services that enable two systems to interact and share information. Online legal applications can take advantage of these services to deliver new online capabilities, like translating text between two different languages.
This is not to say it is a perfect solution. I recognize there are real challenges with the interpretation or translation of languages that may compromise the accuracy of the information translated. Therefore, preliminary testing to ensure the translation of the text is accurate by an expert is recommended.
Services like screen readers allow visually impaired persons to use the internet by reading a website text aloud. Video conferencing can be a great tool for hearing impaired people when used to provide sign language interpreters, particularly if a firm is using technology to provide services or for rural courts who may need the help of sign language interpreters.
This post was just a friendly reminder to incorporate equity-seeking groups into our user profiles, if possible or applicable, to the legal services online platform to be developed. I acknowledge that some online platforms will be targeted to professionals or users that will not have English proficiency as an issue, for example, “BC lawyers”. However, some online platforms that are directed at the population may face some of these issues. For those of us moving forward in this profession, we should not only be aware of these issues but advocate for solutions when possible.